John Lutuli was the leader of ten million black Africans
in their non-violent campaign for civil rights in South
Africa. A man of noble bearing, charitable, intolerant
of hatred, and adamant in his demands for equality and
peace among all men.
Verwoerd would have been behind the government's
decision to force Lutuli to choose between his
leadership of the ANC and remaining the chief of the
Kholwa people. The quiet mission teacher from rural
Natal saw no option and so, at 54, he began a life of
defiance and banning orders. Referred to from then on by
the press as the "ex-chief Lutuli", he challenged
Verwoerd's mad schemes to keep Black people in
"subjection as hewers of wood and drawers of water".
Supported by a mother who was determined that he get an
education, Lutuli went to the local Congregationalist
mission school for his primary work. He then studied at
a boarding school called Ohlange Institute for two terms
before transferring to a Methodist institution at
Edendale, where he completed a teachers' course about
1917. After leaving a job as principal of an
intermediate school, which he held for two years (he was
also the entire staff, he says in his autobiography) -
he completed the Higher Teachers' Training Course at
Adams College, attending on a scholarship. To provide
financial support for his mother, he declined a
scholarship to University College at Fort Hare and
accepted an appointment at Adams, as one of two Africans
to join the staff.
A professional educator for the next fifteen years,
Lutuli then and afterwards contended that education
should be made available to all Africans, that it should
be liberal and not narrowly vocational in nature, and
that its quality should be equal to that made available
to white children. In 1928 he became secretary of the
African Teacher's Association and in 1933 its president.
Lutuli was also active in Christian church work, being a
lay preacher for many years. As an adviser to the
organized church, he became chairman of the South
African Board of the Congregationalist Church of
America, president of the Natal Mission Conference, and
an executive member of the Christian Council of South
Africa. He was a delegate to the International
Missionary Conference in Madras in 1938 and in 1948
spent nine months on a lecture tour of the United
States, sponsored by two missionary organizations. To the frequent accusation that he had "red" sympathies, Lutuli had a ready reply:
"I am no more a communist than Dr Verwoerd
himself. What is more, he is a fascist and I am
Sturdily built with old-world manners, Lutuli was
awarded the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize, which John Vorster
grudgingly allowed him to to receive, stating that
Lutuli will be allowed to travel to Norway
"notwithstanding the fact that the government fully
realises that the award was not made on merit".
In Oslo, Lutuli, wearing traditional chief's headdress,
brought the audience to their feet by singing Nkosi
Sikelel' iAfrika at the end of his acceptance speech.
The next day he delighted students by throwing snowballs
at them from the city hall balcony.
Painted as the Black Saviour - an image that incensed
the Dutch Reformed Church - the calm, principled leader
helped shape the ANC into the giant it would become.
Frail and with failing hearing, Lutuli was killed by a
train he did not hear coming in his home village,
Groutville, on July 21 1967 at the age of 69.