President Jacob Zuma said on Wednesday night South Africans need to ensure that Chief Albert Luthuli’s vision of a non-racial democratic society does not fail.
The president was speaking at the fourth Chief Albert Luthuli Memorial Lecture at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban. Luthuli was Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
“Whatever we do, we must not fail his vision of non-racial democratic society,” Zuma said.
Zuma said Luthuli left an indelible mark in people’s lives — he promoted relations between the African National Congress (ANC) he led and other communities during the apartheid.
The gathering was attended by government ministers and politicians, such as Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, academics, traditional leaders and scores of other people.
“He worked to ensure sound relations between Indian and African communities in Natal, sometimes under difficult conditions, given the apartheid divisions,” said Zuma.
The character of the ANC as an all inclusive, non-racial broad church that was accommodative to all ideological persuasions was a defining feature in Luthuli’s presidency of the ANC, he said.
“It was during his period, for example, that the relationship between communists and nationalists thrived within the congress movement,” said Zuma.
Supporting the armed struggle
The president said it was not correct to say that Luthuli did not support the armed struggle.
Zuma said Luthuli led from the front and articulated the spirit of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the former ANC military wing. The name Umkhonto weSizwe had also come from Luthuli, Zuma said.
Zuma said the ANC had made sure the struggle was led responsibly.
“We could not have a situation where the leadership tailed behind the masses and did not lead. The armed struggle was a well-thought out programme,” he said.
He said Chief Luthuli was never meant to become the face of Umkhonto weSizwe.
“Comrade Nelson Mandela was then appointed to lead MK as its first Commander-in-Chief,” he said.
Mandela had to report to Luthuli about the work done by Umkhonto weSizwe.
“Thus, he [Mandela] was arrested in Howick while going to report to Luthuli,” Zuma said.
Luthuli had promoted tolerance and co-existence and under his leadership, nobody felt out of place. He constantly emphasised the importance of international solidarity to end apartheid.
Zuma described Luthuli as a humble leader.
“He was known for his humility which was a source of his strength. For example, when he was approached for leadership in the ANC, he was reluctant as he felt that there were others more deserving,” he said.
Zuma said he wished people could learn about Luthuli. Positions in the ANC were now fiercely fought for and they even caused tensions ahead of elective conferences of the ruling party.
Luthuli was born in 1898 at the Solubisi Mission near Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and he returned to his ancestral home at Groutville in 1908.
He was trained as a teacher at Edendale near Pietermaritzburg and he accepted the chieftaincy in Groutville.
Luthuli was elected Natal provincial president of the ANC in 1951. He was elected president general of the ANC in 1952 by overwhelming majority.
Luthuli held the position until 1958.
According to the booklet distributed during the lecture, Luthuli died in 1967 under mysterious circumstances. — Sapa