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Albert Mvumbi Luthuli (Posthumous)

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Albert Mvumbi Luthuli (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His exceptional and outstanding leadership skills, in leading a militant, peaceful struggle for human rights, and a non-racial, non-sexist, free, just and democratic South Africa, which belongs to all who live in it.
Profile of Albert Mvumbi Luthuli

Chief Albert Mvumbi Luthuli was born in 1898 in Zimbabwe. Since his father was a missionary, he returned to his ancestral home in Groutville as a child. He was educated in mission schools and at Adam’s College in Natal where he later taught until 1936. In response to repeated calls and requests from the elders of his tribe to come home and lead them, he left teaching that year to become chief of the tribe. He was not a hereditary chief as his tribe had a democratic system of electing its chiefs.

From the inception of his new calling, Luthuli was brought face to face with ruthless African political, social and economic realities — those of rightless and landless people. The futility and limited nature of tribal affairs and politics made him look for a higher and broader form of organisation and struggle, which was national in character.

He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1945. A year later, he entered the then Native Representative Council. At that stage, however, the council had for all intents and purposes come to its end. It was a frustrating talk shop that had been brought to a standstill by the protest of members who questioned the brutal and savage methods employed by the police in dealing with the African miners’ strike on the Witwatersrand in August 1946. It had also called upon government to abolish all discriminatory laws and demanded a new policy towards the African population. It never met again and was eventually abolished by government.

Luthuli was elected provincial president of the ANC in Natal in 1951. From that time, he threw himself into the struggle. As a chief, he was not allowed to take part in politics, but he defied his ban. When he was called upon by the Government to choose between his chieftainship and the ANC, he opted for the latter. He was deposed in 1952 and elected president-general of the ANC by his people the same year. He led the Defiance Campaign in Natal as provincial president, thus endearing to many for his courageous stand.

Luthuli was a determined and courageous fighter, shaped and steeled in the various political and economic struggles that took place throughout the country. There were many bold and imaginative political and economic campaigns for demands envisaged in the 1949 Programme of Action adopted by the ANC. It was under the leadership of Luthuli that the ANC adopted its famous Freedom Charter in June 1955, after a lengthy consultation process with the people.

Notwithstanding the fact that he was confined for practically the duration of his leadership of the ANC, he was arrested in 1956 and, together with other leaders of the liberation movement, charged with high treason. The trial opened in January 1957 and concluded on 29 March 1961 when all the accused were found not guilty.

On 21 March 1960, the apartheid police, acting without provocation, decided to open fire on thousands of unarmed anti-pass demonstrators in Sharpeville, killing 69 of them and injuring 180. Luthuli and the ANC called for a national day of mourning, and he burnt his pass in public. A few days later, a State of Emergency was declared.

He was detained for five months in 1960 together with 2 000 other leaders whom he was arrested with under the State of Emergency declared by the South African Government on 29 March after the Sharpeville Massacre.

In December 1961, Chief Albert Luthuli was honoured when he was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful opposition to apartheid, thus making him the first African to receive such an honour.

It was under his leadership that the ANC became a militant organisation, embarking on numerous campaigns to oppose apartheid laws. The 1950s were known as the Fighting Fifties and the slogan Freedom in our Lifetime captured the imagination of our people, and inspired them to join the struggle. The biggest-ever women’s march against pass laws in 1957 took place under his leadership, so were bus boycotts, and campaigns against forced removals and for better wages. He was also at the helm of the ANC when it changed its methods of struggle and adopted the armed struggle with the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. The sanctions and boycotts, which were successfully sold to the international community together with the armed struggle, hit the apartheid regime in the belly and brought it to its knees. It was Luthuli for the ANC and Martin Luther King Jnr who jointly implored the international community to isolate South Africa using the above-mentioned tools.

Chief Albert Luthuli died in July 1967, allegedly ran over by a train. Our people will always remember him as a leader who was courageous, principled and selfless.