Remarkable People

ID #5171

Albert Luthuli, Nobel Laureate, South Africa.

Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli was born the son of a Seventh Day Adventist missionary in 1898 near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In 1908 he was sent to his ancestral home at Groutville, Natal where he went to the mission school. Having trained as a teacher at Edendale near Pietermaritzburg, Luthuli attended additional courses at Adam's College in 1920 and went on to become part of the college staff. He remained at the college until 1935. He was deeply religious and during his time at Adam's College became a lay preacher. His Christian beliefs were the foundation of his political life when contemporaries were calling for a more militant response to apartheid.

In 1935 Luthuli accepted chieftainship of the Groutville reserve, an elected rather than a hereditary position, and became immersed in racial politics. The following year JBM Hertzog's United Party introduced the Representation of Natives Act which removed blacks from the voter's role in the Cape. That year also saw the introduction of the Development Trust and Land Act which limited black land holding to native reserves.

Luthuli joined the ANC in 1945 and was elected Natal provincial president in 1951. In 1946 he joined the Natives Representative Council which had been set up in 1936 to act as advisor to four white senators who provided parliamentary representation for the black population. However, as a result of a mine workers strike and police response to protesters, relations between the Natives Representative Council and the government became strained. The Council met for the last time in 1946 and was later abolished.

In 1952 Luthuli was a leading light in the Defiance Campaign - a non-violent protest against pass laws. The Apartheid government was, unsurprisingly, annoyed and he was summoned to Pretoria. He was given a choice: Renounce membership of the ANC or be removed from his position as tribal chief. He refused to resign and issued a press statement (The Road to Freedom is via the Cross) in which he reaffirmed his support for passive resistance to apartheid.

"I have joined my people in the new spirit that moves them today, the spirit that revolts openly and broadly against injustice."

At the end of 1952 Luthuli was elected president-general of the ANC. The previous president, James Moroka, lost support when he pleaded not-guilty to criminal charges laid as a result of his involvement in the Defiance Campaign. The government responded by banning Luthuli, Mandela, and nearly 100 others. Luthuli's ban was renewed in 1954 and in 1956 he was arrested - one of 156 people accused of high treason. He was released shortly afterwards for lack of evidence. Repeated banning caused difficulties for the leadership of the ANC but Luthuli was re-elected president-general in 1955 and 1958. In 1960, following the Sharpeville Massacre, Luthuli led the call for protest. He was horrified when a supporting demonstration turned violent and 72 blacks were shot. Luthuli responded by publicly burning his pass book. He was detained under the State of Emergency - one of 18,000 arrested. On release he was confined to his home in Stanger.

In 1961 Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his part in the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1962 he was elected Rector of Glasgow University, and the following year published his autobiography, Let My People Go. Although suffering from ill-health and failing eyesight and restricted to his home in Stanger, he remained president-general of the ANC. On 21 July 1967, whilst walking near his home, Luthuli was hit by a train and killed. He was supposedly crossing the line at the time - an explanation dismissed by many who believe more sinister forces were at work. RSAAL

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:25
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.5

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