Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the Albert Luthuli Symposium, Durban

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
29 Nov 2014

Celebrating Chief Luthuli

Programme Director

Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal: Prof C Potgieter

Chair of the Luthuli Foundation: Mr M Luthuli

The Luthuli family

Distinguished Speakers

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We meet here to celebrate the life and legacy of Chief Albert Luthuli, we are reminded of how far we have come and indeed how many people, individually and collectively, paved the way for our freedom.

We are grateful to them that we are among those who made it to the victory line.We are privileged to be among those inherited the title deed to the future.

Twenty years ago, it was the culmination of three hundred years of struggle that brought us to that point in our history where we could say definitively that we had seized the moment and entered a new space and a new time.

We had embarked upon a new road to the building of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

We accepted the responsibility our people tasked us with to lead, to create the conditions whereby together we would reach the country of our dreams. We stood in for all others who had fallen in the struggle.


We stand on the shoulders of those giants who showed rare stoicism in the fight against colonialism and aparthied:

·       Khoisan Wars of Resistance and resisted colonial plunder,

·       those who had perished on the Eastern Cape frontier wars and resisted colonial impositions for more than two centuries,

·       those who laid down their lives in a battle at Phiring in 1838, confirming the fact that our colonisers were not invincible,

·       those who showed us and the world a glimmer of hope at the Battle of Isandlwana, and through Bhambatha’s rebellion,

·       those women who taught their people never to dishonour the cause of freedom, we speak of Princess Mkabayi ka Jama and Queen Mantantisi who gave birth to King Sekonyela of Batlokoa. To those who brought new methods of struggle.

·       those who organized and united under the banners of political organization born in Mangaung that would lead the fight for the establishment of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.

Those who perished in detention, those who endured unjust trials and long years in prison, those who took to the streets in defiance of unjust laws, those mothers and fathers  who never knew if their children would ever come home.

Those who were tortured, banned, banished, murdered, because they fought for humanity, for freedom. And those who took arms against the oppressor. Those in neighbouring countries who suffered because of their solidarity with our struggle. Those in the anti apartheid movement who stood up even against their own governments and selflessly donated to our cause.

And those who led their countries yet whose lives were also extinguished by the apartheid regime because they supported our cause like Olof Palme and Samora Machel. 

And those whose lives were extinguished because they fought for freedom, those who like Vuyisile Mini, Wilson Khayinga and Zinakile Mkaba who walked triumphantly to the gallows and broke into a song heroically warning the then Prime Minister Verwoed thus, “Nansi indoda emnyama Verwoed, Bhasobha indoda emnyama Verwoed”.

Solomon Mahlangu who walked gallantly to the gallows and said that: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom.”

This struggle taught us as OR Tambo would say that as we capture state power we need to use it to advance the objectives of fundamental social transformation.

This struggle produced hope and confidence enabling us to transform our reality.

Chief Albert Luthuli was one such hero on the road to freedom whose contribution and ideas still shine brightly in our midst.

Infact, not content to be an island unto himself, he took up the mantle of leadership. Throughout his life, there were milestones that would further conscientise and politicize him and take him to higher levels of service.

Chief Luthuli was a profound thinker, a man of powerful logic with a keen sense of justice; a man of lofty principles, a bold and courageous 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 exclusion. 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 and world over.

When he was stripped of his chieftanship because he refused to resign from the African National Congress, he acknowledged that the path of moderation that he had taken for more than thirty years had not borne any fruit.

Chief Albert Luthuli then declared, and I quote:

“…the past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all…. It is with this background and with a full sense of responsibility that, under the auspices of the African National Congress (Natal), I have joined my people in the new spirit that moves them today, the spirit that revolts openly and boldly against injustice and expresses itself in a determined and non-violent manner.”

He concluded by asserting that he would “remain in the struggle for extending democratic rights and responsibilities to all sections of the South African people.”

“What the future has in store for me I do not know. It might be ridicule, imprisonment, concentration camp, flogging, banishment and even death …. It is inevitable that in working for Freedom some individuals and some families must take the lead and suffer: The Road to Freedom is via the cross”.

 As a leader and President of the African National Congress in the 1950s, Chief Luthuli was known for his unwavering commitment and as an insightful and eloquent voice for the African struggle for freedom and self-determination. He was among those who were also put on trial, but remained steadfast.

He fused African tradition, Christianity and modernity. In so doing, he managed to take a perspective that combined different ways of seeing into one coherent vision, a totality of reflection and action.

To paraphrase Paul Freire, Chief Luthuli, was the kind of personality of which it has been said:

“This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed, but he does commit himself, within history, to fight at their side.”

Chief Luthuli was a man of whom one can say that the struggle for freedom was part of his understanding of the gospel and this reinforced his sense of having a calling in life. He embraced the notion of serving the people and working for the greater good of all.

For him, the important values of life would include service, sacrifice, duty, equality, and at the heart of his endeavour was a strong humanistic spirit that prevailed even in the darkest times.

In 1958 he pointed out that: “I personally believe that here in South Africa, with all our diversities of colour and race, we will show the world a new pattern for democracy.”

In this way, he addressed the complex issue of national identity beyond race and espoused the ideal that South Africa should be a country where everyone belongs and all are at home.

Because of his work, he was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 and became the first African to do so. But modestly, he saw the South African struggle as part of contributing towards world peace and acknowledged that in fighting oppression and discrimination, and through the award, “we are serving our fellow men the world over”.

He was not alone in showing us the path to a better future. From Pixley ka Isaka Seme to Sol Plaatje, from Charlotte Maxeke to Moses Kotane, from Clemens Kadalie to Edwin Mofutsanyana to Ray Alexander and JB Marks, to Tata Nelson Mandela and his comrades, to the class of 1976, the eighties and beyond, that OR Tambo described as young lions, they have all paved the road to freedom.

Chief Luthuli’s contemporary at Adams College, Prof ZK Matthews, spoke of an African awakening. He said; “it is in the minds of Africans that revolutions which are rocking the foundations of African societies are taking place”.

In this way through his words, we remember Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s 1906 call for “The regeneration of Africa”.

Nnamdi Azkiwe, the first President of Nigeria, also in 1937 spoke of a Renascent Africa. He said;

“Conceived in the indestructible nature of the spirit, and born of a selfless desire to utilize culture for the service of humanity, it is destined that Renascent Africans must carry the torch of this gospel of a new awakening from West to East and from North to South Africa”.

These words could equally describe Chief Albert Luthuli who was the embodiment, the living spirit of this idea, the gospel of service, the shining light and the one who put trust in the ideal of humanity and a more humane world.

We have travelled a long journey since the days in which Africa’s rebirth and liberation were first articulated.

We have travelled no easy walk to freedom, as Madiba would say, but indeed “there are many more hills to cross”.

As we grapple with the radical transformation of the economy and implement the National Development Plan, let us do so inspired by the life of Chief Albert Luthuli.

He knew perhaps better than we do now that the road to social progress is always under construction.

He knew that we should travel this road armed with spirituality, freedom of thinking, regeneration, economic liberation and political consciousness.

These are the same tools we need today.

From the vantage point that our geography and society offer us, from the strength of our authentic culture, we need to carry that baton that the generations of Luthuli, Tambo, Mandela, Sisulu and others have bestowed on us.

We need to keep our sense of faith that freedom-loving people all over the world have had in us, and we need to be able to complete the work in building a truly equal and just society, where economic prosperity is not the preserve of a few but benefits all.

Only in this way can we be true to the Freedom Charter that declares that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.”

Only in this way can we say that we have learnt from Chief Albert Mvumbi Luthuli.

Because of this we can say that we thank the Luthuli family for sharing their father and grandfather with us.

He made us see the unity of humankind.

He gave us the freedom that comes from interaction with others.

He made us indestructible because we are not alone but inextricably linked to others around us.

And now in this living reality, we knuckle down and continue to construct the road which Chief Luthuli’s hands and others have started for us.

We accept the beauty of this birthright.

We accept the obligations imposed upon us as new people of a new generation.

We pledge in this 20th year of our freedom that we shall indeed show the world a new pattern of democracy.

!!! Somlandela uLuthuli lapha ayakhona!!!

I thank you.