Albert John Lutuli

From New World Encyclopedia

Albert John Lutuli (also known by his Zulu name "Mvumbi"; his surname is sometimes and probably more phonetically spelled "Luthuli") (1898? – 21 July 1967) was a South African teacher and politician. He was president of the African National Congress, at the time an umbrella organization that led opposition to the white minority government in South Africa through the 1950s until his house arrest in 1958 effectively ended his direct role as head of the ANC.

He was awarded the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the ANC and its fight against apartheid. The second recipient that year was the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, to whom the Prize was awarded posthumously. Lutuli was also the first South African, the second black man and the first African to win a Nobel Peace Prize. He was also the second South African recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Lutuli preached non-violent opposition to Apartheid. His belief that Zulu and the "Christian-democratic" cultures of Europe were compatible, together with his rejection of hatred and his conviction in human equality may very well have impacted on post-Apartheid South Africa's project of building a "rainbow society" in which a reconciled populations of black and white cooperate to build a more prosperous life for all. Lutuli also tried to blend his Christian faith with his tribal tradition, which informed his struggle for justice in South Africa. Gunnar Jahn, presenting the Peace Prize, spoke thus of Lutuli's motivation:

Laws and conditions that tend to debase human personality-a God-given force-be they brought about by the State or other individuals, must be relentlessly opposed in the spirit of defiance shown by Saint Peter when he said to the rulers of his day: Shall we obey God or man? No one can deny that insofar as nonwhites are concerned in the Union of South Africa, laws and conditions that debase human personality abound. Any chief worthy of his position must fight fearlessly against such debasing conditions and laws…[1].

Early life

Lutuli was born in Southern Rhodesia. Third son of Christian missionary John Bunyan Lutuli, and Mtonya Gumede, Lutuli was born in Rhodesia around 1898. His father died, and he and his mother returned to their ancestral home of Groutville in KwaDukuza (Stanger), Natal, South Africa, where he stayed with his uncle Martin Lutuli, who was at that time the elected chief of the Christian Zulus inhabiting the Umzinyathi District Municipality mission Reserve.


On completing a teaching course at Edendale, near Pietermaritzburg, Lutuli took up the running of a small primary school in the Natal uplands. He was confirmed in the Methodist church and became a lay preacher. In 1920 he received a government bursary to attend a higher teachers' training course at Adams College, and subsequently joined the training college staff, teaching alongside Z. K. Mathews, who was then head of the Adams College High School. To provide financial support for his mother, he declined a scholarship to University of Fort Hare.

In 1928 he became secretary of the African Teacher's Association and in 1933 its president. He was also active in missionary work.

Tribal chief

In 1933 the tribal elders asked Lutuli to become chief of the tribe. For two years he hesitated, but accepted the call in early 1936 and became chieftain, until removed from this office by the government in 1952.

Anti-Apartheid activist

In 1936 the government disenfranchised the only Africans who had had voting rights—those in Cape Province; in 1948 the Nationalist Party, in control of the government, adopted the policy of apartheid, or "total apartness"; in the 1950s the laws known as the Pass Laws were tightened.

In 1944 Lutuli joined the African National Congress (ANC). In 1945 he was elected to the Committee of the Natal Provincial Division of ANC and in 1951 to the presidency of the Division. The next year he joined with other ANC leaders in organizing nonviolent campaigns to defy discriminatory laws.

The government, charging Lutuli with a conflict of interest, demanded that he withdraw his membership in ANC or forfeit his office as tribal chief. Refusing to do either voluntarily, he was dismissed from his chieftain position.

A month later Lutuli was elected president-general of ANC, formally nominated by the future Pan Africanist Congress leader Potlako Leballo. Responding immediately, the government imposed a succession of bans on his movement, the first for two years, the second also for two years. When this second ban expired, he attended an ANC conference in 1956, only to be arrested and Treason trial a few months later, along with 155 others. After being held in custody for about a year during the preliminary hearings, he was released in December, 1957, and the charges against him and 64 others were dropped.


Another five-year ban confined him to a fifteen-mile radius of his home. The ban was temporarily lifted while he testified at the continuing treason trials. It was lifted again in March 1960, to permit his arrest for publicly burning his pass following the Sharpeville massacre. In the ensuing state of emergency he was arrested, found guilty, fined, given a suspended jail sentence and returned to Groutville. One final time the ban was lifted, this time for 10 days in early December of 1961 to permit Lutuli and his wife to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo, an award described by the South African newspaper Die Transvaler as "an inexplicable pathological phenomenon."


Lutuli's leadership of the ANC covered the period of violent disputes between the party's "Africanist" and "Charterist" wings. Africanist critics claim Lutuli was peripherialized in Natal and the Transvaal ANC Provincial branch and its Communist Party (CPSA officially dissolved 1950 but secretly reconstituted 1953 as SACP) allies took advantage of this situation. Lutuli did not see the Freedom Charter before it was adopted by acclaim at Kliptown in 1955. After reading the document and realizing the ANC, despite its numerical superiority, had been subordinated to one vote in a five-member multiracial and trade union "Congress Alliance," Lutuli rejected the Charter but then later accepted it partly to counter the more radical African wing whom he likened to black nazis. In 1959 the Africanists split from the ANC over the issue of the Freedom Charter and Oliver Tambo's 1958 rewriting of the ANC Constitution. The PAC posed a serious challenge to the ANC until its military wing was destroyed at Itumbi camp, Chunya, Tanzania in March 1980.

Umkhonto we Sizwe

In December 1961, without Lutuli's sanction, Nelson Mandela of the Transvaal Provincial ANC publicly launched Umkhonto we Sizwe at the All In Conference in Pietermaritzburg, where delegates from several movements had convened to discuss cooperation. Mandela's charisma and the global publicity surrounding his trial and imprisonment upstaged Lutuli, who grew increasingly despondent in isolation.

In 1962, after receiving world recognition as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, he was elected Rector of Glasgow University by the students, serving until 1965, but restrictions prevented him from leaving Natal.

A fourth ban to run for five years confining Lutuli to the immediate vicinity of his home was issued in May 1964, to run concurrently with the third ban.

In July 1967, at the age of 69, he was fatally injured in an accident near his home in Stanger.

In 2004 he was voted number 41 out of 100 in the SABC3's ''Great South Africans''.


Throughout his life, Lutuli advocated non-violent resistance and rejected hatred in favor of the belief that peace should be extended to all men and women. He rooted his opposition to the racist policies of South Africa in human rights, petitioning the United Nations to support the anti-apartheid struggle. An active Christian and lay-preacher, he served as chair of the South African Board of the Congregationalist Church of America, president of the Natal Mission Conference, and was a member of the executive member of the actively anti-apartheid Christian Council of South Africa. He was present at the International Missionary Conference held in Madras (1938) and toured the United States for nine months (1948), sponsored by two missionary organizations. In his Nobel Peace Prize lecture, he spoke of how easy it would have been for the African National Congress to stir up violent passions of a people denied liberty. Instead, the ANC remained committed to non-violent protest and to principles of democracy and human equality. He stated:

We know that in so doing we passed up opportunities for an easy demagogic appeal to the natural passions of a people denied freedom and liberty; we discarded the chance of an easy and expedient emotional appeal. Our vision has always been that of a nonracial, democratic South Africa which upholds the rights of all who live in our country to remain there as full citizens, with equal rights and responsibilities with all others. For the consummation of this ideal we have labored unflinchingly. We shall continue to labor unflinchingly. [2]. He also spoke of how the support of the United Nations and of "some of its member nations singly" had "reinforced" Black South African's "undying faith in the unassailable rightness and justness of our cause."

Lutuli's Nobel Biography describes him as:

was the leader of ten million black Africans in their nonviolent 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, Lutuli forged a philosophical compatibility between two cultures - the Zulu culture of his native Africa and the Christian-democratic culture of Europe.[3]


Lutuli died in 1967 following an accident when he was struck by a train. He did not live to see the dismantling of the Apartheid regime, or the work of reconciliation that followed this, led by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. However, his own rejection of hatred, even hatred of hatred and of intolerance, his strong belief on democracy and in the dignity of all people regardless of skin-color, appears to have found expression in the policies of Mandela's government which elevated forgiveness and reconciliation and the building of a multi-racial society over revenge and retribution. When former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, he paid tribute to Lutuli's commitment to democracy and acknowledged his influence on his own life, together with that of who had "given his life for peace in central Africa." These two men "set a standard that" Annan "tried to follow throughout" his "working life." [4]


  1. Gunner Jahn, "The Nobel Peace Prize, 1960" Norwegian Nobel Committee The Nobel Peace Prize, 1960 retrieved 18 July 2007
  2. Albert John Lutuli, "Nobel Lecture" Nobel Lecture retrieved 18 july 2007
  3. Norwegian Nobel Committee, "Nobel Biography: Albert Lutuli" Nobel Biography - Albert Lutuli retrieved 18 July 2007
  4. Kofi Annan, in Stanley Meisler, Kofi Annan: A man of peace in a world of war, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007. ISBN 9780471787440): 324.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Benson, Mary. Chief Albert Lutuli of South Africa, London: Oxford University Press, 1963.
  • Luthuli, A. J. Lutuli Speaks: Portrait of Chief Lutuli, [East Germany]: Solidarity Committee of the German Democratic Republic, 1982.
  • Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa, Third Ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001 ISBN 9780300087765
  • Pillay, G. J. Voices of Liberation, Pretoria, South Africa: HSRC Publishers, 1993. ISBN 9780796913562


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