Albert John Lutuli was a South African teacher, activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and politician. Luthuli was elected president of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952, at the time an umbrella organisation that led opposition to the white minority government in South Africa, and served until his accidental death.
Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli was born in 1898 near Bulawayo in Rhodesia, where his father, John Bunyan Luthuli, a missionary interpreter, had gone from Zululand. After his father’s death, the 10-year-old Albert returned to South Africa and learned Zulu traditions and duties in the household of his uncle, the chief of Grout ville, a community associated with an American Congregational mission in Natal’s sugar lands.
With his mother's support, Luthuli went to a local Congregationalist Institute for his primary education before he took admission in a boarding school called Ohlange Institute.
On completing a teacher’s course from a Methodist Institution at Eden dale around 1917, Luthuli took up a job as principal in an intermediate school in Natal. In 1920, he attended a higher teacher’s training course at Adams College with a scholarship provided by the government and joined the training college staff afterward. Albert Luthuli was elected as the secretary of the African Teacher’s Association in 1928 and subsequently its president in 1933.
On completing a teaching course at Edendale, near Pietermaritzburg, Lutuli accepted the post of principal and only teacher at a primary school in rural Blaauwbosch, Newcastle, Natal. Here Lutuli was confirmed in the Methodistfirmed in the Methodist Church and became a lay preacher. In 1920 he received a government bursary to attend a higher teachers' training course at Adams College, and subsequently joined the training college staff, teaching alongside Z. K. Mathews, who was then head of the Adams College High School. To provide financial support for his mother, he declined a scholarship to University of Fort Hare.
In 1928 he became secretary of the African Teacher's Association and in 1933 its president. He was also active in missionary work.
In 1933 the tribal elders asked Lutuli to become chief of the tribe. For two years he hesitated, but accepted the call in early 1936 and became a chieftain. He held this position until he was removed from his office by the Apartheid government in 1953. Their having done so notwithstanding, amongst his people he retained the use of the dignity "chief" as a pre-nominal style for the remainder of his life.
In 1936, the government imposed total restriction on non-white community, circumscribing every aspect of their life. Luthuli’s concern for all black people made him join ANC (American National Congress) in 1944. The Africans were denied the right to vote, and in 1948 the government adopted the policy of racial segregation, known as ‘Apartheid’; the Pass Laws were tightened in the 1950's. The objective of ANC was to secure human rights for the black community, bringing them the rights to justice and equality.
He was elected to the committee of the Natal Provincial Division in 1945 and soon after, he became the president of the division in 1951. The following year, he came in contact with other ANC leaders and decided to join them in a struggle for justice and equality for all South African people. He organized non-violent campaigns to raise voice against discriminatory laws and racial segregation. He was charged with treason and was asked to pull out with the ANC or leave his office as tribal chief. Luthuli refused to do either and subsequently, he was fired from his chieftainship. In the same year, he was elected president-general of ANC.
Soon after his selection as President to ANC, the government imposed a ban on him that restricted his movement and prevented him to hold public meetings in South Africa. The ban expired after two years, upon which he went to Johannesburg to attend a meeting and before he could reach home, another banned was imposed on him, confining him to a very short radius of his home. The ban remained for two years. These bans came as an attempt to affect his popularity among the people, weakening the civil rights movement.
After the second ban expired, Luthuli went to attend an ANC conference in 1956, and was arrested again and charged with treason. He was released in December, 1957, when charges against him were dropped after initial hearings. Luthuli faced his third ban in 1958, when government imposed a five-year ban, prohibiting him from publishing anything and confining him to a radius of 15 mile of his house. The ban was temporarily lifted in 1960 and he was arrested and set as an exemplar for demonstrators against the pass law. One final time the ban was lifted in December 1961, when Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Luthuli as an active leader of the civil rights movement, worked with Nelson Mandela. Though Luthuli played a key role in the planning and conduct of the civil rights, in December 1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe was launched without his sanction, making him feel dejected and isolated. In 1962, he became Rector of the University of Glasgow and served till 1965. The forth ban followed again in 1964, confining him to a very short vicinity of his home. In 1966, Luthuli met Robert F. Kennedy United States Senator, in South Africa and the meeting successfully drew attention from across the world towards the hardship and injustice South Africans were exposed to. In 2004, he was elected 41st in the SABC3’s Great South Africans.
The hardship and stress had made Luthuli ill many years before his death. He suffered from high blood pressure and minor strokes. Towards the end of his life, his hearing and eye sight also became weak. Albert John Lutuli died in an accident on 21 July 1967, when he was struck by a train while walking near his home.
(An Autobiography. With an introduction by Charles Hooper....)
Albert Luthuli was deeply religious, and during his time at Adam's College he became a lay preacher. His Christian beliefs acted as a foundation for his approach to political life in South Africa at a time when many of his contemporaries were calling for a more militant response to Apartheid.
Luthuli’s first political step in joining the African National Congress (ANC) in 1945 was motivated by friendship with its Natal leader. Far more significant was his election to the Natives Representative Council (an advisory body of chiefs and intellectuals set up by the government) at the very time in 1946 when troops and police were crushing a strike of African miners at the cost of eight lives and nearly a thousand injured. Luthuli immediately joined his people’s protest against the council’s futility. When he toured the United States in 1948 as a guest of the Congregational Board of Missions, he warned that Christianity faced its severest test in Africa because of racial discrimination. On his return home he found that the Afrikaner Nationalists had newly come to power with their policy of apartheid.
”I defended him [John McCain] in those hearings when some stupid-ass right-wing idiot accused him of being the Manchurian Candidate, that somehow the Vietnamese had brainwashed him. This is the most unbelievably callous, degrading, nonsensical piece of crap I’ve ever heard in my life, coming from some chicken hawk out there, to hurl at somebody who spent as long as he did being tortured and standing up for his country, and caring about it as much as he did. It’s incredible that people would behave like that, absolutely stunning.”
”I deplore this kind of politics. I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is, none of these individuals served on the boat (Kerry) commanded. Many of his crew have testified to his courage undered to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam.”
”You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
”We must retool our nation to prepare for the challenge we already face to maintain our position in the global economy. And this much is certain: America will not have national security without economic security.”
Quotes from others about the person
Nelson Mandela: "Chief Albert Luthuli was a man of universal wisdom, and exceptional integrity: a man of deep compassion, motivated into political action by his deep Christian commitment. The African National Congress is proud today to list him among its Presidents."
Martin Luther King Jr.: "Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible - the known pilots and the unknown ground crew. So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man's inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who's Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live - men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization - because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness' sake."
Callan, E.: "Lutuli is primarily a mediator... he sought to reconcile tribal values with Christianity... and bridge the gap between traditional tribal organization and the system of parliamentary democracy."
In 1927 he married Nokukhanya Bhengu, the granddaughter of the Zulu chief, Dhlokolo of the Ngcolosi. Seven children were born to the couple.