Chief Albert J. Luthuli, former president of the African National Congress and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The fortieth anniversary of his death in 1967 took place on July 21.
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The terrible news of the untimely and puzzling death of our President, Inkosi AJ Luthuli, on 21 July 1967, burst upon us while we were in exile in the United Kingdom. With his passing away it seemed that a great and bright star that would always be there to guide us along the difficult road to freedom had suddenly been extinguished.
When he and others of our leaders were arrested in 1956 and charged with the capital offence of High Treason, we took up the call - We Stand by our Leaders! We stood by our leaders determined to ensure that whatever happened, we would not allow the apartheid regime to take their lives.
When our leaders were arrested at Rivonia and again faced the possibility of a death sentence, again we said - We Stand by our Leaders! And again we stood by our leaders determined to ensure that whatever happened, we would not allow the apartheid regime to send them to the gallows.
We did not know then that they had taken the decision that should they be sentenced to death they would not lodge an appeal. Rather, they would depend on the strength and determination of the masses of our people, supported by the whole of progressive humanity, to defeat the intentions of the oppressor regime.
As they were transported to Robben Island to serve their life sentences, we said, if we have lost them, we have lost them only for a little while, and never forever. We said this because we knew that through struggle, we would liberate them and restore them to their positions at the head of the mass army of national liberation that would never be defeated.
But like a bolt from the blue came the dreadful news that the very head of our movement, the first among equals, President Albert Luthuli, had been struck by a train at a lonely railway crossing not far from his home, and was no more. The masses of our people were not there, and could not have been present, to serve as his protective shield.
He died, but somehow we, and especially his comrade, who had served as his Deputy President, Oliver Tambo, would not accept that his position should be filled until we had won our freedom. In his own way and by his actions, OR Tambo echoed the words of an Irish patriot, who on his way to the gallows, having taken up arms against the English oppressors of his people, said that no man should write his epitaph until Ireland had won her freedom.
It was only in 1985, 18 years after the death of AJ Luthuli, that Oliver Tambo agreed that we, the members of the ANC, should, at the Kabwe Conference, elect him President of the ANC. But still, together with Oliver Tambo, we sang of Albert Luthuli, convinced then, as we still are, that though he no longer lives, he continues still to lead us.
Somewhere I read that the writer, Raymond Chandler, said: "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid... He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honour, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world."
These words speak to us about Inkosi AJ Luthuli - a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man, a man of honour, without thought of it, the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. A leader of the ANC, the masses of our people considered him their national leader. The peoples of the world considered him a good enough man for any world and welcomed him into their bosom as a Nobel Laureate.
When, in 1952, apartheid tyranny sought to force him to choose between his Chieftaincy and his membership of the ANC, he said, simply, "a chief is primarily a servant of his people". Then, when the tyrants stripped him of his Chieftaincy, he spoke of the uncertain future ahead of him, whose only certainty was that he would continue to be a servant of the people.
"What the future has in store for me I do not know. It might be ridicule, imprisonment, concentration camp, flogging, banishment and even death. I only pray to the Almighty to strengthen my resolve so that none of these grim possibilities may deter me from striving, for the sake of the good name of our beloved country, the Union of South Africa, to make it a true democracy and a true union in form and spirit of all the communities in the land."
Death came to him in a way we did not expect. Because of that we were not on guard to act as his protective shield. But he, and not those who wished him dead, surely rests in perfect peace because those who lived, whom he led, ensured the realisation of his dream - of the transformation of his country into "a true democracy and a true union in form and spirit of all the communities in the land".
Some in many lands, confronted by the pernicious results of the fanatical adulation of individuals, have cried out - what need have we of heroes and heroines! And some have said, cursed is the country that needs heroes and heroines!
And yet we, who are a heroic people, have been blessed in our heroes and heroines. We have been blessed that we had as our leader, AJ Luthuli, who, to lead us, had to walk down our mean streets, a man who was not himself mean, who was neither tarnished nor afraid. Not by his words but by his deeds, he taught us that we too should not ourselves be mean, and neither tarnished nor afraid.
He lived and was ready to live and die by what he said. "It is inevitable that in working for Freedom some individuals and some families must take the lead and suffer: the Road to Freedom is via the Cross... Success will only come our way if we face this threat (of further repression) with indomitable courage and tenacity of purpose... I am personally very much averse to cliques in any organisation. If there are cliques or pressure-groups in Congress I am not associated with any...
"There comes a time...when a leader must give as practical a demonstration of his convictions and willingness to live up to the demands of the cause, as he expects of his people...I could not have done less than I did (when I joined the anti-pass campaign), and still live with my conscience. I would rightly lose the confidence of my people, and earn the disrespect of right-thinking people in my country and in the world, and the disdain of posterity...
"I also, as a Christian and patriot, could not look on while systematic attempts were made, almost in every department of life, to debase the God-factor in Man or to set a limit beyond which the human being in his black form might not strive to serve his Creator to the best of his ability. To remain neutral in a situation where the laws of the land virtually criticised God for having created men of colour was the sort of thing I could not, as a Christian, tolerate."
Because the millions of our people understood and supported what Albert Luthuli and the ANC said and did, refusing to be "neutral in a situation where the laws of the land virtually criticised God for having created men of colour", today we are free. But the work that he gave us is not yet done.
He had said: "All Africa, both lands which have won their political victories, but have still to overcome the legacy of economic backwardness, and lands like my own whose political battles have still to be waged to their conclusion - all Africa has this single aim; our goal is a united Africa in which the standards of life and liberty are constantly expanding; in which the ancient legacy of illiteracy and disease is swept aside, in which the dignity of man is rescued from beneath the heels of colonialism which have trampled it."
This new struggle, fully to restore the dignity of the African masses, demands the same spirit of self-sacrifice, commitment to serve the people, courage and tenacity of purpose, loyalty to principle, and respect for one's conscience, which inspired AJ Luthuli, and which he demanded of all those who called themselves patriots, as he led our movement and people during a challenging period in our struggle.
As we engage this new struggle, there is no longer any cause to repeat after Albert Luthuli - "What the future has in store for me I do not know. It might be ridicule, imprisonment, concentration camp, flogging, banishment and even death."
Rather, what we should constantly remind ourselves that if we should allow ourselves the freedom to abuse our liberty and thus become mean and tarnished, we would indeed "rightly lose the confidence of (our) people, and earn the disrespect of right-thinking people in (our) country and in the world, and the disdain of posterity."
And this we should never do, while, with clear consciences, we describe ourselves as successors of Inkosi Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli, President of the African National Congress, eminent leader of the people of South Africa, outstanding pan-Africanist, Nobel Peace Laureate, Isithwalandwe.
The British statesperson, Benjamin Disraeli once said: "The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example."
This special edition of Umrabulo is dedicated to such a legacy. It must serve as our teacher, as AJ Luthuli was our teacher.
President: African National Congress