Albert John Lutuli
circa 1898 - 21 June 1967

Albert John LutuliAlbert 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 not."

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.

Copyright zar.co.za January 2007