Arthur Letele (Posthumous)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Arthur Elias Letele
Arthur Elias Letele gave his life to the struggle against apartheid and paid the ultimate price for democracy and the freedom currently enjoyed by citizens. Letele was born on 2 October 1916 in Maseru, Lesotho but grew up in Ladybrand in the Free State.
He completed his secondary education at the Lovedale Institution in Alice in the Eastern Cape. He continued his studies at the South African Native College (which later became Fort Hare University), and the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. He qualified as a medical doctor in 1946 and started his career the following year at Lovedale.
Letele’s involvement in politics started in 1944, when he joined the ANC Youth League. In 1948, he decided to move to Kimberley, where he immediately joined the local branch of the ANC and was elected as treasurer of the branch.
Letele persuaded a number of volunteers to defy discriminatory laws during the Defiance Campaign. In October 1952, violence erupted in Kimberley and Letele was arrested for inciting violence. He was found guilty and sentenced to a few months, suspended for two years. He was also prevented from leaving Kimberley until August 1953 as part of his bail conditions.
At the end of 1953, Letele was elected to the ANC Executive Committee at the organisation’s annual conference. In 1955, Letele took part in the Congress of the People campaign by collecting the demands of the residents of Kimberley for the Freedom Charter. He also attended the congress in Kliptown near Johannesburg in June 1955, where he proposed the second clause of the charter, stating that all men should be equal before the law. In 1955, Letele was elected as the Treasurer-General of the ANC. In 1956, he was one of the accused along with other liberation movement leaders during the first Treason Trial. The charges against him were withdrawn and he was released. Following the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, Letele publicly burnt his pass in Orlando near Johannesburg.
When he returned to Kimberley, he was arrested and detained in various locations including Kimberley and Bloemfontein, but was released on 19 July 1960. The most prominent condition of his release was that he had to leave South Africa within 30 days. He went into exile in Lesotho in 1961 where his family subsequently joined him. He was allowed to visit Kimberley on occasion and retained his position within the ANC.
Although his political involvement was largely focused on South Africa, Letele did become involved in Lesotho’s politics. In 1961 he, and other ANC leaders, attempted to take over the leadership of the Basutoland Congress Party to support the ANC in its resistance to the developments in South Africa. Letele represented the ANC overseas while he had a British passport.