Joe Colletti, PhD
Society of Urban Monks
–On July 21, it will be 50 years since Albert Luthuli was
fatally injured in an accident and some still question if it was a mishap–
-Let what Luthuli did inspire what you do-
The fight against the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa during the latter part of the last century shaped many champions such as Nelson Mandela. Another such victor was Albert Luthuli.
Luthuli was a giant among a distinguished array of leaders against apartheid, which separated people according to color, ethnicity, caste, gender, etc., and created inequality. As determined as he was to assert the equal humanity of Africans, Luthuli was equally determined to convey an esteemed dignity of African leadership in the face of extreme violence and brutality.
He seized an opportunity to assert equality and dignified leadership upon receiving the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the non-violent struggle against apartheid. He was the first African and the first person outside Europe and the Americas to receive the award.
During his acceptance speech of the award in Oslo, Norway on December 11, 1961, he opened his speech by stating that
No one could be left unmoved at being plucked from the village of Groutville, a name many of you have never heard before and which does not even feature on many maps – plucked from banishment in a rural backwater, lifted out of the narrow confines of South Africa’s internal politics and placed here in the shadow of these great figures.
During the 1950s, the Government gave “banning orders” that prohibited Luthuli from attending public gatherings and confined his movements in terms of geography.
He ended his speech by asserting that Africa should “engage human energy, human skill and human talent in the service of peace, for the alternative is unthinkable – war, destruction and desolation” and then declared that
Africa’s qualification for this noble task is incontestable, for her own fight has never been and is not now a fight for conquest of land, for accumulation of wealth or domination of peoples, but for the recognition and preservation of the rights of man and the establishment of a truly free world for a free people.
Luthuli understood that the task of building a free society had to be a process, not an event. As it turned out, the anti-apartheid process that he initiated prior to accepting the Nobel Peace Prize heightened in the 1960s, which helped end apartheid just over 20 years ago.
He also knew that true leadership was not only about what he could do, but also about inspiring others to do what they could do, which is one of his greatest legacies. He inspired a generation of leaders in Africa and beyond who also asserted equality and conveyed an esteemed dignity of leadership. One of his contemporaries was Nelson Mandela who was brought to trial and imprisoned for nearly 28 years until he was released from prison in 1990 and became President of South Africa in 1994 through 1999, which marked the end of apartheid.
He also understood that his Christian faith could not allow him to stand idle. During his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize he expressed his Christian convictions. He avowed that to
remain neutral in a situation where the laws of the land virtually criticized God for having created men of colour was the sort of thing I could not, as a Christian, tolerate.
I, as a Christian, have always felt that there is one thing above all about “apartheid” or “separate development” that is unforgivable. It seems utterly indifferent to the suffering of individual persons, who lose their land, their homes, their jobs, in the pursuit of what is surely the most terrible dream in the world.
Today, the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership “aims to develop a new generation of responsible leaders, shaping local and international business practices and policies in support of social and environmental justice (see http://www.up.ac.za/the-albert-luthuli-centre-for-responsible-leadership).”
Also, the Luthuli Museum seeks “to conserve, uphold, promote and propagate the life, values, philosophies and legacy of Chief Albert Luthuli (see http://luthulimuseum.org.za).”