For his country

2010-11-26 00:00

WE celebrate the life and teachings of Chief Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli not only as an ANC leader, but also as a leader beyond the confines of the congress movement.

He made himself available to serve in many community structures, in various capacities. He is known as a traditional leader, lay preacher, devoted Christian, teacher, college choirmaster, sports and cultural activist.

Of significance this year is the fact that we are marking 50 years since the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chief Luthuli. That historic award was one of the most significant milestones in the history of our country and our Continent.

What is it about Chief Luthuli that made him stand out as a leader and statesman?

Like a true leader, he did not believe in words without effect, in action without results. He was an active agent of change.

We know that at his first teaching post in Blaauwbosch, he emphasised the importance of intellectual development. He would not let children suffer what oppressors had designed for them — to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.

As a chief of the abase-Makholweni people in Groutville, he engrossed himself wholeheartedly in the problems and circumstances of his people far beyond the call of duty.

As a Christian, he demonstrated the practical relevance of his religion through his devotion to humankind and to fighting tirelessly for the liberation of his people. Most importantly, Chief Luthuli was a born democrat. He believed in democracy. He practised it and made it his task to fight for democracy for this country.

The character of the ANC as an all-inclusive, non-racial broad church that was accommodative to all ideological persuasions was a defining feature of his presidency of the ANC.

In celebrating the service to humanity of this illustrious son of Africa, we must highlight his commitment to a non-racial, democratic society. We speak of unity in diversity, and that is what Chief Luthuli preached and practised.

The Freedom Charter’s assertion that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, found true meaning in his leadership.

The intensification of apartheid brutality ignited a growing impatience with the apartheid government and the need to intensify the struggle in different ways.

The period called for decisive leadership by Chief Luthuli and the ANC.

Some of the critical campaigns and events which reflected the atmosphere of anger and impatience, and which led to a highly charged atmosphere in the country, include the Defiance Campaign, the 1957 Peasant Uprising in Lehurutse, the Peasant Revolt in Sekhukhune, the Cato Manor march where rioting broke out, the Sharpeville Massacre and the Pondoland revolt in 1960.

The ANC as a leader of society had to channel appropriately people’s anger.

It had two choices — to take leadership or allow the situation to deteriorate, leading to some adventurists taking over and leading the country to anarchy.

Leading from the front, President-General Luthuli articulated the letter and spirit of MK [Umkhonto we Sizwe], using a Zulu analogy: Uma isitha sikulandela size sifike emzini wakho, kufanele wenze njani uma uyindoda? Uyasukuma uhoshe umkhonto uzilwele. (If an enemy follows you to your home, what do you do as a man? You stand up, take your spear and fight back.)

This is the analogy that Chief Luthuli made to name Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Spear of the Nation.

The situation led to the decision taken by the structures of the ANC clandestinely to take up arms as an additional pillar of struggle, without abandoning peaceful protests and other forms of resistance.

Umkhonto we Sizwe was born.

The armed struggle was a well-thought out programme. This is why from the onset, the movement decided that in the course of MK operations, there must be an avoidance of loss of life, by choosing the sabotage and targeting of strategic installations.

Those who argue that Chief Luthuli may have not supported armed action need to appreciate the policies, practices and general traditions of the ANC, especially the quest for consensus.

Any member or leader of the ANC has a right to any view. However, once a decision has been taken and agreed to by consensus, after much debate and argument, it becomes a collective decision of the ANC.

In closing, let us draw inspiration from Chief Luthuli’s statement in his famous speech, “The Road to Freedom is via the Cross”, when he said:

“What the future has in store for me, I do not know. It might be ridicule, imprisonment, concentration camp, flogging, banishment and even death.

“I only pray to the Almighty to strengthen my resolve so that none of these grim possibilities may deter me from striving, for the sake of the good name of our beloved country, the Union of South Africa, to make it a true democracy and a true union in form and spirit of all the communities in the land.”

• This is an edited version of the Chief Albert Luthuli Memorial Lecture by President Jacob Zuma at Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban on Wednesday.

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