Chief Albert Luthuli Centenary Lecture by President Jacob Zuma, 7 September 2012, Kimberley, Northern Cape

ANC National Chairperson,
ANC Provincial Chairperson and provincial leadership,
ANC NEC Members,
Leaders of the Tripartite Alliance,
The Luthuli Family,

I am greatly honoured to deliver this centenary lecture on the life and times of Chief Albert Mvumbi Luthuli, Isithwalandwe.

I do so with great humility, given the stature of this distinguished South African and ANC President-General, who was the first African to be awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.

Comrades and friends,

There are many lessons to be learned from Inkosi Luthuli`s life and leadership. I would like to share a few of these lessons today.

But firstly it is important to note that this commemorative lecture takes place during the same month way back in September 1952, when the Minister of Native Affairs, Dr Werner Eiselen summoned Chief Luthuli to Pretoria. He gave him an ultimatum to choose between being a chief or the ANC. He chose the ANC, which led to him being stripped of his chieftaincy.

When he was deposed in November of that year, he issued his timeless statement entitled the; "Road To Freedom Is Via A Cross".

He said:

"Who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately and modestly at a closed and barred door?

"Has there been any reciprocal tolerance or moderation from the Government, be it Nationalist or United Party? No!

"On the contrary, the past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress, until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all.

He added: "It is with this background and with a full sense of responsibility that, under the auspices of the African National Congress, I have joined my people in the new spirit that revolts openly and boldly against injustice and expresses itself in a determined and nonviolent manner..."

Comrades,

That is the man we have gathered to honour, and whose legacy and heritage we are celebrating as the African National Congress, on Heritage Month.

This man of many accomplishments was a traditional leader, a preacher, a teacher, college choirmaster, sports and cultural activist and a sugar cane farmer.

Inkosi Luthuli was born in 1898 and spent his early years of childhood in the then Rhodesia. Upon his father`s death, his mother returned to their home in the Umvoti Reserve in Natal, in Groutville.

His mother, MaGumede, had a profound impact on his life. He recalls that she was a strict disciplinarian, which is why he grew up to be a disciplined adult and leader himself.

He studied in Groutville and also at the Ohlange Institute, founded by ANC president Dr John Dube, who was also the principal.

From Ohlange, he proceeded to Edendale, where he qualified as a teacher in 1917.

After completing his teacher training he was appointed headmaster and only teacher at Blauwbosch intermediate school in the Natal Midlands. He later completed a higher teacher training course at Adams College in Amanzimtoti.

He became involved in various community struggles and activities at the time including membership of the Natal African Teachers Union and soccer associations.

It was at this time too that he became chief of the abasemakholweni people after a long consideration of the request.

Inkosi Luthuli married mama Nokukhanya in 1927 and they were blessed with seven children.

He joined the African National Congress in 1945. In 1946, he was elected to the Natives Representative Council, an advisory body which had been set up by Government. As soon as he realised this structure was not meant to advance the wishes of African people, he resigned from it.

A devout Christian and Methodist Church preacher, in 1948 Chief Luthuli was invited to tour on a lecture and speaking visit by the Congregational Board Church to the United States. In these tours, he warned that the spread of Christianity in South Africa was being severely hampered by racial discrimination. Little did he know that in the same year, 1948, this racial discrimination would be formalized as Apartheid when the Nationalist Party came to power.

In 1951, he was elected president of the Natal ANC, after defeating A.W.G. Champion.

In 1952, he became one of the leaders of the Defiance Campaign, a departure from the politics of deputations, petitions and mass protests which were met with severe repression by the apartheid government.

He had quickly overcome his anger at not having been briefed about the defiance campaign by AWG Champion, his predecessor. He discovered the news at the national conference.

Later that year, he was elected President-General of the African National Congress by a large majority, gaining re-election in 1955 and 1958. Inkosi Luthuli`s proven dedication to the ANC, his eloquence, his choice of the ANC over the chieftaincy, and his character which was beyond reproach, led to the delegates considering him as a natural choice to take over from the outgoing President-General James Moroka.

Having joined the ANC in 1945, Inkosi Luthuli reached the pinnacle of the ANC as President-General in only seven years. The membership of the ANC saw outstanding qualities in him, and was convinced that he would take the ANC to greater heights. He did not disappoint them.

President-General Luthuli succeeded because he believed in collective leadership. In 1954, he issued a call to ANC members for a 100% turn-out at the forthcoming National Congress. He emphasized the point that the African National Congress was not a one man show. It is this collective effort that should inspire us as we continue working to renew the ANC and revive its character and values.

In working for that renewal, we will draw lessons and inspiration from the fact that Inkosi Luthuli led the ANC during a turbulent period of repression, but also an exciting one, as the people responded in various ways, fighting for their freedom.

It was during the leadership of Inkosi Luthuli that the Defiance Campaign against Unjust Laws was launched. The Hertzog Bills, which deprived the few African voters of their franchise in the Cape Province and the restrictions of land ownership, had just been passed.

This required the President-General to channel the anger of his people to avoid a violent response. There was the women`s march to the Union Buildings in 1956, the Peasant Uprising in Lehurutse in 1957 and another in Sekhukhuneland. There was also the Women`s March against beer halls in Cato Manor in 1959 and the tragic Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. There were marches in Nyanga and Langa in Cape Town in March 1960 and also the Pondoland Revolt in 1960. All these needed sound leadership and President-General Luthuli was not found wanting.

Former President Nelson Mandela, who was Volunteer-in-Chief during the Defiance Campaign, was mandated with the task of preparing a strategy document that would respond to the repression that was unleashed as a result of the Defiance Campaign. President Mandela produced the M-Plan which advocated a cell approach to the structures so that there would be immediate relay of information. It was therefore during President-General Luthuli`s tenure that the movement was set for a revolutionary change to the manner in which it had operated in the past.

And indeed, as a leader, he was not found wanting. He always rose to the occasion.

Inkosi Luthuli`s everlasting contribution should, no doubt, be the manner and ease with which he was able to marshal all anti-apartheid forces in South Africa, spanning the racial divide. He was not only the President-General of the African National Congress. He also chaired the whole Congress movement.

It was during his tenure that the all-inclusive Congress of the People was held in 1955, bringing South Africans from all walks of life to chart their future, and a future which we now enjoy. The Freedom Charter, which was drafted at this gathering under his tenure, forms the anchor of our Constitutional democracy.

We also learned from Inkosi Luthuli, the importance of reconciliation, national unity and social cohesion.

Although he was seriously ill, in 1954 and in between his many banning orders, President-General Luthuli toured various towns and cities preaching reconciliation and justice among all races.

Ironically in 1959, he was banned to his rural home of Groutville, for promoting what the government termed "fanning feelings of ‘hostility` between the races". This banishment took place just as more and more Whites were beginning to attend mass meetings addressed by Chief Luthuli. The first white member of the African National Congress, Mary-Louise Hoper joined the ANC during Luthuli`s tenure as President-General.

The banning orders had become tactics to silence him. In 1953 he was banned for one year, and was prevented from attending any political gatherings in all towns and cities in South Africa. On the day the ban ended, he flew to Johannesburg to address a meeting in Sophiatown to protest the Western Areas Removal Scheme. Upon his return at the airport in Johannesburg he was served with another two-year banning order until July 1956. Thus at the time of the Congress of the People gathering at Kliptown in 1955, he was still banned and could not attend. After his second banning had expired in July 1956, he was arrested in December of that year and detained during the preliminary Treason Trial hearing in 1957. He was among the 156 leaders who were charged with treason but only to be recalled in March 1960 to be the key defence witness. In 1958 Inkosi Luthuli was relatively free to undertake speaking tours around South Africa. At a meeting in Pretoria a group of right-wingers attacked him on the platform and kicked him to the ground. After such barbaric attack, he dusted himself off and continued with his speech on reconciliation between whites and blacks.

A year later, he was served with his third banning order which prohibited him from attending any meeting anywhere in South Africa and from leaving his home district. In 1960 he spent five months in jail during a state of emergency. On the expiration of this ban in May 1964, John Vorster, then Prime Minister, served yet another five year ban confining him to his home in Groutville.

No writings or speeches of Luthuli could be quoted at the time. However, the banning did not silence him whatsoever. He joined the protest against the pass system by publicly burning his pass. His family suffered deeply from his persecution. But he had warned in his famous public statement in November 1952 that;

"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".

The banning of the ANC was indeed the final step to silence the movement. At the time, the lobby for armed struggle was growing and underground activities were underway. While Inkosi Luthuli was under his severe ban, he was informed that he had been awarded the 1960 Nobel Prize for Peace award. The award was conferred in 1961 and the occasion was one of the most significant moments of South African history and heritage.

His acceptance speech helped focus world attention on apartheid and its evil atrocities against Africans. He also emphasized reconciliation and unity. He made the fundamental point that it would have been easy for the feelings of resentment at white domination to have been turned into feelings of hatred and a desire for revenge against the white community. He praised the ANC leadership which had preached non-racialism and restraint in the face of extreme provocation.

Inkosi Luthuli obtained a long standing ovation after his moving acceptance speech. He rose to sing the National Anthem, locating himself in Oslo as a proud African. He made every African, in the continent and the diaspora, extremely proud of themselves.

Comrades and compatriots,

One of the potent weapons that brought apartheid to its knees was the imposition of economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. Inkosi Luthuli and Dr Martin Luther King, both Nobel Laureates, issued a Joint Statement on Apartheid to the United Nations and were the first to call for sanctions against the Apartheid regime. This became a recurring call to the United Nations until the General Assembly and the Security Council adopted the resolution.

It was also during Inkosi Luthuli`s tenure that the spirit of Bandungism was ushered in bringing together all the oppressed nations in Africa and in Asia. Twenty nine African and Asian nations met in Bandung in Indonesia in April 1955, to promote Afro-Asia cooperation and to oppose colonialism and imperialism. The internationalism that the Bandung Conference encouraged needed careful management and President-General Luthuli, in spite of his numerous banishments, managed it with care. It was therefore no wonder that when the armed struggle was launched, many of the previously oppressed nations which were then free, were willing to accommodate our fighters and provide the necessary assistance to our combatants.

Compatriots, Comrades and Friends!

It was also during Inkosi Luthuli`s tenure that he managed to work with the Communist Party of South Africa. Inkosi Luthuli also encouraged the alliance and unity between the African National Congress and the South African Congress of Trade Unions, the precursor to the giant labour federation COSATU. He referred to the African National Congress as the "shield" and the federation as the "spear."

Comrades,

We have noted some works doubting President General Luthuli`s commitment to the armed struggle. Dominant records indicate that he was a pacifist whose hand was "twisted" to accept the armed struggle even though he did not believe in it. When he took over as President the policy of the ANC had not changed from petition politics. However, when conditions changed and radicalism set in, he was ready to embrace the new approach. Inkosi Luthuli was a man of peace, but he was also a militant leader. Like all ANC leaders, he detested violence. The armed struggle was adopted as a last resort, in the face of an intransigent, aggressive state that was hell-bent on perpetually riding roughshod over the rights of the black majority.

He gave his name to the Luthuli Detachment of Umkhonto Wesizwe, a group of dedicated soldiers, some of whose achievements were recognized a few weeks ago when the democratic government proudly handed out their medals of sterling service to the nation.

For Inkosi Luthuli, there was no line that divided his Christian beliefs and Congress beliefs.

He argued that he was in Congress precisely because he was a Christian.

Comrades and friends,

Any discussion of Inkosi Luthuli`s legacy would be incomplete without noting the spirit of volunteerism which he inculcated within the ANC.

The volunteer movement was initially established to mobilize the South African masses and to explain the objectives of the 1955 Congress of the People.

The amavolontiya ka-Luthuli played a pivotal role in the life of the organization promoting patriotism and selflessness in the service of the ANC and the country.

In celebrating the legacy of Inkosi Luthuli, let us also learn from his example of self-reliance and hard work. He led by example as a sugar-cane farmer, a small post office operator, a transportation entrepreneur as well as a teacher, while also holding other positions at both provincial and national structures in sports, education and faith-based organizations. Our people should learn from him to do everything possible to create a better life for themselves, using the opportunities that freedom and democracy have provided. As we face the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment in our country, we must also forge ahead with the transformation of the economy so that it can serve and improve the lives of all.

We have to fulfill Chief Luthuli`s wish to ensure that the contribution of the black majority to the South African economy is recognized.

He had lamented as follows in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture:

"It is claimed that white men build everything that is worthwhile in the country; its cities, its industries, its mines and its agriculture, and that they alone are thus fitted and entitled as of right to own and control these things, whilst black men are only temporary sojourners in these cities, fitted only for menial labour, and unfit to share political power".

While working to undo this myth, through expanding the ownership and control of the economy, we need to do so using the legal instruments that were created by the democratic government following the struggles of our people over many years.

With regards to, for example, the transformation of the mining sector, which is under the spotlight currently following the violent labour disputes at the Lonmin Marikana mine in Rustenburg, we need to remind all parties about the need to implement the Mining Charter.

The Charter takes into account the fact that we come from a particular history of subjugation.

As a result, our country`s legislation requires investors to commit to the Mining Charter, the Social and Labour Plan, and sound environmental management. Mining companies are required to improve the housing and living conditions of workers and also invest in their training and community development.

It is necessary to create humane living conditions that promote the dignity of workers who produce such precious metals that keep our economy strong and vibrant.

Having said that, we must also emphasise that labour relations must be undertaken peacefully and within the ambit of the law. We cannot tolerate a situation where workers openly threaten people with murder if they exercise different choices from theirs, as it has reportedly happened in Marikana this week.

Already, 44 people have been killed violently in Marikana and we have to protect lives and property and ensure that we do not revert to that situation ever again.

We would like to see a resolution of the stalemate between the workers and their employer as soon as possible so that the situation can return to normalcy.

In this regard, we welcome the signing of the Marikana Peace Accord this week.

The stakeholders to the Accord have committed themselves to dialogue to eliminate violence and the violation of rights of all stakeholders. That is the language and the culture that we know and understand best in our country. We are always able to find solutions even to the most difficult problems, through sitting around the table and talking.

The Department of Labour and the CCMA continue to mediate in the talks between the stakeholders including the employer and employees with the objective of finding a lasting solution to the dispute.

Government has noted the concerns raised by other stakeholders who have not yet signed. We encourage all parties to conclude the Peace Accord in order to move forward with the negotiations.

We would like to extend our appreciation to the CCMA, the religious leaders, traditional leaders, the labour movements and all parties who continue to work tirelessly to ensure that an amicable solution is found to the dispute and that stability prevails in Marikana.

We also urge politicians to resist the temptation to hijack the labour dispute for their own ends. We do not need incitement and inflammatory talk at this stage. It is not good for Marikana and is not good for our country.

In the memory of Inkosi Luthuli who taught us to work for peace, we will not allow ourselves to be diverted from our mission of building this beautiful country, by people who have ulterior motives.

Compatriots,

President-General Luthuli represented all that a dedicated cadre and leader of the ANC should be. To him, it was others who came first. He could have chosen any station in life; in sports, in traditional administration; in education or in church, but he chose to struggle for the freedom of his people. He was humble yet steadfast in his desire to see the South Africa of his dream. He laid a firm foundation for us who live today to enjoy the fruits of his sacrifice.

In remembering the legacy of Chief Luthuli, I wish to particularly appreciate the role that is played by the Luthuli Legacy Project in preserving his memory. I wish to also thank numerous researchers, philanthropists and curators who continue to trace and archive and preserve those artifacts, art pieces as well as memorabilia which keep the contribution of this gallant leader forever in our minds.

We wish them well in their work of piercing the life of this leader of the ANC together for posterity. I am aware that there are a number of loose ends in his life. These include the circumstances around which he died in 1967. We will rely on the heritage research community for answers to these questions.

This great man lived by the high standards of respect and selfless service to his people.

And he loved this country and its people and he believed all South Africans have an equal claim to this country.

He eloquently articulated this in his speech to a meeting of the South African Congress of Democrats in 1958.

He said: "I am not prepared to concern myself with such questions as: "Where have you come from?", "Do you come from the North?" or "Did you come from Europe?" It is not important. What is important for our situation is that we are all here. "That, we cannot change. We are all here, and no one desires to change it or should desire to change it. And since we are all here, we must seek a way whereby we can realize democracy, so that we can live in peace and harmony in this land of ours."

Indeed we are all here in South Africa. Let us remain focused on building our beautiful country, under the leadership of the African National Congress.

I thank you.