South African President Delivers Chief Albert Luthuli Lecture



24 November 2010

Members of the Luthuli Family,

Honourable Premier, Dr Zweli Mkhize;

Hon Minister of Arts and Culture Mr Paul Mashatile;

His Majesty King Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, isilo Samabandla,

Judge President of the province, Justice Qeda Msimang,

His Worship Mayor Obed Mlaba;

Hon leader of the IFP, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi;

Fellow South Africans,

Sanibonani, Dumelang, Namaste!

We have come together on this special evening to celebrate the service to humanity of a man who left an indelible mark in our lives and our history, Chief Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli.

This memorial lecture affords us the opportunity to celebrate the life and teachings of Chief Luthuli not only as an ANC leader, but also as a leader beyond the confines of the congress movement.

He made himself available to serve in many community structures, in various capacities.

He is known as a traditional leader, lay preacher, devoted Christian, teacher, college choirmaster, sports and cultural activist.

The fact that he was also a sugar cane farmer and led the Sugar Cane Growers Association proves his belief that you cannot divorce political emancipation from economic emancipation.

Given his outstanding leadership qualities, it is not surprising that the ANC awarded him the prestigious *Isithwalandwe* award, together with Father Trevor Huddlestone and Dr Yusuf Dadoo at the Congress of the People in Kliptown, in 1955.

It was at this historic gathering of South Africans from all formations and walks of life that the Freedom Charter was adopted.


Of significance this year in 2010, is also the fact that we are marking 50 years of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chief Luthuli, on the 10thof December 1961.

He received the award with great humility and dedicated it to oppressed South Africans, Africans and all other downtrodden masses in the entire world.

He stated in his acceptance speech: *”This Award could not be for me alone, nor for just South Africa, but for Africa as a whole”.*

That historic award was one of the most significant milestones in the history of our country and our continent. It was no small achievement for a nation that was still in bondage.

It confirmed that Chief Luthuli was the right leader at the right time for the ANC and our country. The Award added much needed energy and renewed focus on the international campaign against apartheid.


It is also truly befitting that in the year that we celebrate 50 years of the first Nobel Peace Prize to Africa, we also proved to the world that Africa is capable of taking up any challenge that comes her way.

We successfully hosted the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup tournament just a few months ago.

Therefore, 2010 is a truly special year for our country and our continent. The Nobel Peace Prize was not the only contribution of Chief Luthuli to the international pillar of our struggle.

He was actually the first South African to call for sanctions against this country, starting a movement that was to gather untold momentum in later years of the struggle.

For sustainable sanctions, the support of the international community was of the essence.* *

In a joint statement to the United Nations with Dr Martin Luther King Junior, entitled *Chief Luthuli’s Appeal for Action against Apartheid,* in 1962, they stated:

*”Economic boycott is one way in which the world at large can bring home to the South African authorities that they must either mend their ways or suffer from them.”*

Chief Luthuli constantly emphasised the importance of international solidarity to end apartheid, and also the fact that South Africa’s destiny was intertwined with that of Africa.

He believed that South Africa itself could not be free until all the oppressed peoples of the world were free.

Therefore his service to humanity was not confined to South Africa only.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What is it about Chief Luthuli that made him stand out as a leader and statesman?

Like a true leader, he did not believe in words without effect, in action without results. He was an active agent of change.

We learn that at his first teaching post in Blaauwbosch, he emphasised the importance of intellectual development.

He would not let children suffer what oppressors had designed for them -to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.

As a chief of the abase-Makholweni people in Groutville, he engrossed himself wholeheartedly in the problems and circumstances of his people far beyond the call of duty.

As a Christian, he demonstrated the practical relevance of his religion through his devotion to mankind and fighting tirelessly for the liberation of his people.

Most importantly, Chief Luthuli was a born democrat. He believed in democracy. He practiced it, and made it his task to fight for democracy for this country.

Addressing the South African Congress of Democrats meeting in Johannesburg in 1958, he stated:

“To me democracy is such a lovely thing, that one can hardly hope to keep it away from other people”..We don’t live in Parktown, but we appreciate the beauties of Parktown. -. Can you ever-lastingly cut off a human being from beauty? “..I suggest that democracy, being the fine

thing it is, the apex of human achievement, cannot be successfully kept from the attainment of other men. I say not”.*

He was also known for his humility, which was the source of his strength. For example, when he was approached for leadership of the ANC as Natal President, he was very reluctant, as he felt there were others more deserving.

He stated once:* “My ambitions are, modest – they scarcely go beyond the desire to serve God and my neighbour, both at full stretch”.*

Disciplined and consultative, he asked comrades to determine if indeed it was the general feeling that he becomes a leader. Once he was satisfied of the process, he became the provincial President of the ANC.

He was later elected ANC President-General in 1952, having joined the organisation only in 1945.

The character of the ANC as an all-inclusive, non-racial broad church that was accommodative to all ideological persuasions was a defining feature of his presidency of the ANC.

It was during this period for example, that the relationship between communists and nationalists thrived within the congress movement, as he promoted tolerance and co-existence. Under his leadership, nobody felt out of place.


In celebrating the service to humanity of this illustrious son of Africa, we must highlight his commitment to a non-racial, democratic society.

We speak of unity in diversity, and that is what Chief Luthuli preached and practiced.

The Freedom Charter assertion that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, found true meaning in his leadership.

Again addressing the conference 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.’*

Whatever we do, we must not fail his vision of a truly non-racial democratic society.

This is quite relevant on this special year, when we mark 150 years of the arrival of Indian indentured labourers in South Africa.

Chief Luthuli actively promoted relations between the ANC and the Natal Indian Congress.

He worked to ensure sound relations between the two communities in Natal,sometimes under difficult conditions, given the apartheid divisions.

This was truly, a remarkable leader of all the people of South Africa, not just members of the African National Congress. He was ahead of his time. The co-chair of the American Committee on Africa, Dr Martin Luther King Junior, could have referred to Chief Luthuli in the book “Strength to Love” published in 1963 when he said:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.

This statement rings true when one thinks of the turbulent period of the 1950s into the 60s. The intensification of apartheid brutality ignited growing impatience with the apartheid government, and the need to intensify the struggle in different ways.

The period called for decisive leadership by Chief Luthuli and the ANC.

Some of the critical campaigns and events which reflected the atmosphere of anger and impatience, and which led to a highly charged atmosphere in the country included the following:

– The defiance Campaign against Unjust Laws in 1952;

– The 1957 Peasant Uprising in Lehurutse, Zeerust in the North West province.

– The Peasant Revolt in Sekhukhune, now known as “Motshabo” in the present day Limpopo.

– The Cato Manor march in Durban where rioting broke out in 1959 in protest against the city’s beerhalls or eMatsheni, and the destruction of dipping tanks by women.

– The Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960, in which 69 people were killed and scores were injured.

– Another protest march on 30 March 1960 by about 30 000 people from the townships of Langa and Nyanga in Cape Town.

– The Pondoland revolt in 1960 at Ngquza Hill.

The ANC as a leader of society had to appropriately channel people’s anger.

It had two choices – to take leadership or allow the situation to deteriorate leading to some adventurists taking over and leading the country to anarchy.

Leading from the front, President-General Luthuli articulated the letter and spirit of MK, using an isiZulu analogy that uma isitha sikulandela size sifike emzini wakho, kufanele wenze njani uma uyindoda? Uyasukuma uhoshe umkhonto uzilwele.

*(If an enemy follows you to your home, what do you do as a man? You stand up, take your spear and fight back).*

This is the analogy that Chief Luthuli made to name *Umkhonto Wesizwe*, the Spear of the Nation.

The situation led to the decision taken by the structures of the ANC clandestinely, to take up arms as an additional pillar of struggle, without abandoning peaceful protests and other forms of resistance.

Umkhonto Wesizwe was born.

This was to ensure that the struggle is led responsibly with leadership. We could not have a situation where the leadership tailed behind the masses and did not lead.

The armed struggle was a well-thought out programme. This is why from the onset, the movement decided that in the course of MK operations, there must be an avoidance of loss of life, choosing sabotage and targeting of strategic installations.

It is important to note that Chief Luthuli was never meant to become the face of MK. Comrade Nelson Mandela was then appointed to lead MK as its first Commander-in-Chief.

As the commander of MK he had a duty to report to the leadership, and among these was the President-General. Thus, he was arrested in Howick having gone to report to the President-General.

Those who argue that Chief Luthuli may have not supported armed action need to appreciate the policies, practices and general traditions of the ANC, especially the quest for consensus.

Any member or leader of the ANC has a right to any view. However once a decision has been taken and agreed to by consensus, after much debate and argument, it becomes a collective decision of the ANC.

Chief Luthuli states as much in an interview with *Drum* magazine conducted on the 1st of May 1953:

“Accepting the presidency of Congress, one should do so because he believes in the objectives of Congress. Any man worthy of being president by his ability and prestige should make his influence felt in the organization, so that what he says is given due consideration by his colleagues. * *”But the final decision in any matter is the collective will of the executive or the National Conference, as the case may be”.*

Compatriots and friends, This statement indicates his belief in the discipline of the collective, and the need to take responsibility for decisions that are taken in any organization or institution.

From Chief Luthuli, we have learned the importance of humility, commitment, compassion and willingness to listen to others.

We have learned the importance of discipline, consistency and steadfastness in leadership.

We have also been reminded that the democracy and freedom we enjoy today came at great cost to many.

Therefore, we should guard our gains jealously, and commit ourselves to continuously promote and consolidate our hard won freedom and democracy. In only 16 years, we have the type of democracy and systems of governance that have been able to withstand many tests.

We sail through smoothly simply because our democracy is based on very sound and solid foundations.

It is based on the teachings of our leaders such as Chief Albert Luthuli, from whom we learned that South Africa and its people should come first in everything we do.

In his honour, as South Africans, we must serve with dignity and to the best of our abilities wherever we are stationed, in the service of our people.

The deep-seated commitment to the attainment of freedom demonstrated by Chief Luthuli, Comrades Mandela, Sisulu, Dadoo and all our leaders should propel us forward always to ensure that we achieve what they fought for – a better life for all.

In closing, let us draw inspiration from Chief Luthuli’s statement in the famous speech, *The Road to Freedom is via the Cross,* when he said:

“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”.*


Indeed, nothing can be bigger and more important than service to our nation, to the downtrodden and to humanity in general.

As Chief Luthuli did, he served his people in education, business, sports, as a traditional leader, as a preacher and as a political leader.

Throughout his life, he rendered service with distinction, recognized by the people of South Africa as *Isithwalandwe,* and by the world, through awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize.

We salute him for his contribution to our nation and to humanity in general.

OkaMadlanduna wayibeka induku ebandla!

I thank you.