Gentleman of Justice
"If there is an extra-royal gentry in Zulu society, then it was into this class that Albert John Lutuli was born," wrote Dorothy C. Woodson, curator of African Collections at Yale. Born in 1898 near Bulawayo in what is now Zimbabwe, Albert John Lutuli was the son of Mtonya Gumende, who was born into the household of Ceshwayo, a Zulu king. On his father's side, both his uncle Martin and his grandfather Ntaba were tribal chiefs in the rural area of Natal near Durban on South Africa's southeast coast. But the era into which Albert Lutuli was born would not be kind to tribal chiefs and kings. With a one-to-four ratio of whites to blacks, coastal white people rooted in a solid two hundred fifty years of history in South Africa would seek to maintain control through power, property, law, and, when all else failed, violence. And black tribal people of the interior with their two-thousand-year seniority would oppose white control by the strength of their numbers, their ability to live off the land, passive resistance, and, when all else failed, violence. It was a deadly mix of fear and power gone amuck.
Apartheid resulted—a vain solution of being separate but not equal. It began with a rather benign "Native Land Act" in 1913 and solidified in 1950 with laws prohibiting blacks from public protest and voting. By then, black South Africans had lost the right to hold property (outside of the reserved 13% of the land), work (except at physical labor), travel except as permitted, have adult children living with them, marry out of their race, speak to news reporters, vote, or receive college preparatory education. As white Prime Minister H. F. Verwoerd explained, "Natives will be taught from childhood that equality with Europeans is not for them."
In 1952, Albert John Lutuli was elected President of the African National Congress (ANC), a resistance organization of some 100,000 non-white South Africans. Lutuli held this office until his death in 1967. Influenced by his lifelong Christian faith, he successfully led groups of thousands of people in various forms of resistance—which he was able to keep largely peaceful. For example, in 1957 Lutuli orchestrated a bus boycott among a hundred thousand Africans living near Johannesburg. Blacks walked to work up to 20 miles a day to protest increased bus fare. Lutuli accomplished this leadership, with its restraint on violence, long-distance. Except for a few months of freedom, Lutuli lived the remainder of his life after 1952 under house arrest, which limited his travel to 15 miles from his home, screened his visitors, barred him from public gatherings, and in the end tried to prohibit him from writing.
In 1961, the South African government permitted Lutuli's to travel to Oslo to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace—after which Prime Minister Vorword grumbled about its "spirit of enmity toward a country which has in no way harmed Norway."
Lutuli's written and spoken words testify his motives.
To Join or Separate?
"I am in Congress precisely because I am a Christian … . My own urge because I am a Christian, is to get into the thick of the struggle … taking my Christianity with me and praying that it may be used to influence for good the character of the resistance … . I am confident enough in the Christian Faith to believe that I can serve my neighbour best by remaining in his company." (Albert Lutuli, Let My People Go, pp. 154-155)
"This was my last visit to the outside world … . The argument is, of course, that 'natives who travel get spoilt.' … I can only reply that I was not spoilt abroad. I was spoilt by being made in the image of God." (Ibid. p. 85)
"How far do these churches represent something alien from the spirit of Christ? … Do not many Christian ministers talk down to us instead of coming down (if that is the direction) among us, as Christ did and does?" (Ibid. p. 131)
"My only painful concern at times is for the welfare of my family but I try even in this regard, in a spirit of trust and surrender to God's will as I see it, to say: 'God will provide.' It is inevitable that in working for freedom some individuals and some families have to take the lead and suffer: The road to freedom is via the cross. Mayibuye! Africa! Africa! Africa!" (Lutuli speech quoted in Gerald J. Pillay, Voices of Liberation, p. 50)
"If I find a man in the mud, it is my duty to uplift him and remind him 'You are not of the mud.' If there be human beings who for some reason or other, have forgotten their rights and wallow in the mud, it is the duty of all who see, to say to them: 'Don't wallow in mud. Try to reach to the apex.'" (Lutuli speech 1958, quoted in Pillay, Voices of Liberation, p. 122)
"I think there is a challenge to us in South Africa to set a new example for the world. Let us not side-step that task … . After all, we all admire our color. I often say my black color is proof of sunshine and is due to heat. I admire my black color—I should … . I believe personally that, notwithstanding the fact that our cultures are diverse, we come to live together and in the process of our coming together, I will come to admire certain aspects of your culture, others I will reject. But I think also you will find that there will be aspects of our culture which are good. And so can develop a true South African culture, built up of the best of all our cultures." (Lutuli speech 1958, quoted in Pillay, Voices of Liberation, p. 122)
Carolyn Nystrom is a career writer living in northern Illinois. The life of Albert Lutuli is treated more fully in a forthcoming book by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom to be published by InterVarsity Press in 2010.
Historian Gerald J. Pillay was born in 1953 in Natal near where Albert Lutuli lived out his 15 years of ban from public life. Pillay, now Vice Chancellor at Liverpool Hope University in the U.K., has done extensive work on Albert Lutuli (also spelled Luthuli), his life, and his writing. See his book Voice of Liberation: Albert Lutuli (Human Sciences Research Council, 1993). Dr. Pillay coauthored with Carolyn Nystrom the article "God's Image in Color" in Christian History and Biography Issue 94. The African National Congress (ANC) maintains a website that continues to make available much of Albert Lutuli's speeches and writings. See http://www.anc.org.za. This site also provides information about various current causes of justice in South Africa along with information about the continued work of ANC.