Chief Albert Lutuli


Chief Albert John Lutuli, the beloved President-General of the African National Congress (SA); one of Africa's greatest political figures of our times; the undisputed leader of and respected spokesman for South Africa's 14 million oppressed, exploited and humiliated inhabitants, passed from the scene of active struggle for political rights and national liberation in July,1967, when it is alleged he was run over by a train.

Chief Lutuli was a profound thinker, a man of powerful logic with a keen sense of justice; a man of lofty principles, a bold andcourageous fighter and a statesman. He was a true African nationalist and an unflinching patriot. Although he grew up under tribal conditions and surroundings, he was uncompromising against racialism; tribalism and all forms of racial and sectional exclusiveness. He believed in and fought for full political, economic and social opportunities for the oppressed people of South Africa regardless of colour, creed, nationality or racial origin. A staunch anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, he fought and obtained the co-operation of all anti-apartheid, anti-imperialist progressive movements and organisations in South Africa.

As a practising Christian, Chief Lutuli genuinely and sincerely believed in the well-being, happiness and dignity of all human beings. Because of his convictions, he sacrificed all prospects of personal gains and comforts and dedicated his life to the cause and service of his fellowmen.

Chief Lutuli was born in 1898, away from Groutville but returned as a child to his ancestral home. He was educated in Mission Schools and at Adam's College in Natal where he later taught until 1936. In answer 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.

As far as the Africans were concerned,1936 was a year of political disturbances, economic plunder and uncertainty in South Africa. That year, the country was faced with the notorious Hertzog Bills. One of the Bills known as the "Representation of Natives Act" which rendered the then African vote in the Cape Province valueless. Under it the Native Representative Council was established. The other, the "Natives Land and Trust Bill", sought to limit the land to be owned or occupied by the African population of 12 million to 12.5 per cent of the land, while reserving the remaining 87.5 per cent for a population of less than 3 million Whites.

From the inception of his new calling, Chief Lutuli was brought face to face with ruthless African political, social and economic realities - those of rightlessness and landlessness of his 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.

Joined ANC

With this background, Chief Lutuli openly and boldly joined the struggle for the right of Africans to full and unfettered development. He joined the African National Congress in 1945. In 1946, 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 useless and frustrating talking 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 the Government to abolish all discriminatory laws and demanded for a new policy towards the African population. It never met again and was eventually abolished by the Government. Chief Lutuli was elected Provincial President of the African National Congress in Natal in 1951. From that time he threw himself body and soul 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 African National Congress, he chose the African National Congress. He was deposed in 1952 and elected President-General of the African National Congress by his people the same year.

Chief Lutuli 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 both in the 1949 Programme of Action adopted by the ANC, and in the Freedom Charter. Some of the campaigns were violent, bitter and grim. These usually took the form of.

Militant Fighter

There is a wrong and unfortunate impression that Chief Lutuli was a pacifist, or some kind of an apostle of nonviolence. This impression is incorrect and misleading. The policy of non-violence was formulated and adopted by national conferences of the African National Congress before he was elected President-General of the organisation. The policy was adopted in 1951 specially for the conduct of the "National Campaign for Defiance of Unjust Laws" in 1952. What is correct, however, is that as a man of principle and as a leader of unquestionable integrity, Chief Lutuli defended the policy entrusted to him by his organisation and saw to that it was implemented. When that policy was officially and constitutionally changed, he did not falter.

Chief Lutuli was fundamentally a militant, disciplined and an uncompromising fighter who had joined and led an organisation of men who, like himself, honoured and respected the decision and resolutions of their conferences. Through his sincerity, devotion and dedication to the cause of African freedom and progress he was held in high esteem by all men of goodwill in South Africa and the world. . . These qualities also earned him hatred and the wrath of the enemy. Through fear of his ideas and stand the enemy banned and confined him to the Lower Tugela area from 1952 till his death on 21st July, 1967. His first ban for two years was in 1952. It was renewed in 1954. In 1959 he was banned for a further period of five (5) years which was again renewed when it expired. But he continued with political work till the last days of his life.

Charged with Treason

Notwithstanding the fact that he had been confined for practically all the time of his leadership of the African National Congress, he was arrested in 1956 and, together with other leaders of the liberation movement, was charged with High Treason. The trial opened in January, 1957 and concluded on 29th March 1961 when all the accused were found not guilty. Together with 2,000 other leaders he was arrested and detained for five months in 1960 under the State of Emergency declared by the South African Government on March 29th,1960

Chief Lutuli was truly a great political personality and leader. But his political greatness and organisational achievements cannot be divorced from his organisation and colleagues, some of whom have been hanged and others who are languishing in the prisons of the oppressors; men who assisted him in solving problems and in shouldering the heavy task of leadership, men whom he so ably led and directed during difficult and trying times.

The collection of speeches published here show the clearsightedness of this great leader. What is more it shows that the African National Congress did all in its power to change the policies of the racist regime in South Africa through peaceful means. It is only when every effort for a peaceful change was met by police violence and brutality did the decision to resort to armed struggle adopted by the organisation.

Editor: ANC South African Studies


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