Albert Luthuli remembered at exhibition opening
A loving father and an ‘ordinary man’
19 July 2007
Dr Albertina Luthuli at Making Peace
JULY 19 2007 – Making Peace, an exhibition celebrating the legacies of Chief Albert Luthuli and Mr Nelson Mandela, opened today at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The opening was attended by Mr Mandela, President Bill Clinton, and an invited audience of about 180 dignitaries and media.
Drawing the parallels between the lives of these two great men, Making Peace uses photographs, first person commentary, poetry and narrative to connect their stories.
‘Someone who was one of us’
In a speech, Chief Luthuli’s daughter, Dr Albertina Luthuli, said of her father, “I’m going to introduce you to the man as an ordinary human being – as a father, a community person … as someone who was one of us.”
She remembered that after returning to South Africa after 21 years in exile, her younger brother, Sibusiso, told her, “Sisi, don’t be surprised when you walk about in Stanger. Once people see you, they will say, ‘Oh, I knew your father, he was my friend.’ ” But, Dr Luthuli added with a laugh, “Some of those people were actually too young to have known Baba.”
She remembered further, “His charisma cut across the strong racial stigma of those ways of apartheid. He looked for ways to help people all the time, even though he himself had little.” She recalled, for example, how he started a night school for sugar-cane farmworkers and taught them about human rights, among other things.
She also remembered some entertaining anecdotes, such as how Chief Luthuli and other leaders, who met at his residence, had feared the telephone was bugged. “They didn’t trust the telephone, and they would cover it with pillows and cushions. And as time went, they did not trust the pillows and cushions!” She recounted how her mother had found them a safer meeting place outside in the bush.
Dr Albertina Luthuli meeting with Mr Nelson Mandela
Dr Luthuli also talked about her father’s ties with the royal Zulu household. “I think President Clinton is familiar with the phrase, ‘a special relationship’,” she said. “[My father] had a special relationship with the royal family.” She remembered how King Goodwill Zwelethini “used to come home quite frequently”, and how he and her father had talked about modernising traditional leadership.
She remembered how Chief Luthuli had liked sport, especially tennis and football. “The team then was Shooting Stars.” He also taught and loved music, especially classical music, and would often sing to the radio. She added that Ellen Khuzwayo had been in his choir.
Dr Luthuli talked of her father’s mysterious death, in a train “accident” on July 21, 1967. She said she had talked to a woman who had been a young child, eating sugarcane with two others that windy morning at the railway station, and who had talked to her father before he died. “He walked with us for a short time on that particular day,” Luthuli remembered the woman telling her. “He told us, ‘you will grow tall and be rich … but you must stay at school.’ He urged us to study and become leaders of tomorrow.”
Dr Luthuli also remembered how Mr Robert Kennedy had visited her father in the 1960s, when he was banned, to find out his opinions of what was really happening in South Africa at the time.
‘We thought we should at least go to school together’
President Clinton: ‘Your father was having an impact far beyond the borders of South Africa’
President Clinton said in return to Dr Luthuli, “I was just a young schoolboy when your father won the Nobel Peace Prize,” growing up in the South in the United States, during the years of the civil rights movement. “When your father won the prize, we thought we should at least go to school together,” he said. “Your father was having an impact far beyond the borders of South Africa.”
Thandeka Luthuli Gcabashe, also the daughter of Chief Luthuli, said she thought the day and the exhibition were “very moving, very profound”. She said it was “The first event of its kind to bring together two great leaders of South Africa that are both well-renowned. I think the two combined voices – although my father is late now – will bring a great message.”
Frene Ginwala, who was the Speaker of Parliament during Mr Mandela’s presidency, said, “It’s a very appropriate occasion, linking the Nobel Peace Prize and the concept of dialogue with actually leading to action. Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli exemplified this.”
Struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada, who also spoke at the event today (see related story), said of Making Peace: “It’s a very, very inspiring exhibition. It’s balanced and it highlights what I consider to be the chief’s and Madiba’s main legacy: the foundations for a new, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa.”
Kathrada added, “My fear is history is being rewritten and people are forgetting the legacy of 1994. The fact is that it was a peaceful transition, which is largely due to the way Madiba managed to convey the policy of non-racialism.”
After the event, Dr Albertina Luthuli reflected, “I’m short of words; it’s hard to describe how I feel on this occasion of Madiba’s 89th birthday. I knew him when he could still walk straight. To combine this day with remembering my father was very special. This exhibition is fantastic; the Foundation has done a great, great job indeed!”
Emilia Potenza, curator of the Apartheid Museum, said, “For me, it was wonderful to hear Albertina Luthuli speak. I’ve only seen images of her as a young person, in 1955, so it was wonderful to see and hear her talk about her father. It also made me realise what a journey we’ve been on and how far we’ve come.”
Photographer Alf Khumalo who has photographed South African leaders for many decades, including Chief Luthuli and Mr Mandela, said, “It’s great to honour Luthuli the way they are. I think the exhibition is beautiful, the big pictures have a special impact.”
‘Now I can die and go to heaven’
Mr Ronald Harrison painted a series of eight paintings entitled The Spirit of Chief Albert Luthuli
As an adjunct to Making Peace, a series of eight paintings by Mr Ronald Harrison entitled The Spirit of Chief Albert Luthuli was also displayed. Mr Harrison is famous for his 1962 painting, The Black Christ, which depicted Chief Luthuli on the cross. The painting was banned from public display, and later smuggled out of the country, where it was used to support anti-apartheid work. Mr Harrison paid for his defiance by being detained by the Security Police and tortured.
The painting, which took 10 months to paint, is now in the National Art Gallery in Cape Town.
Mr Harrison said today, “I felt very humbled. There have been two great moments in my life: in 1962 when I spoke with Chief Luthuli for about two hours, and today with Madiba. Now I can die and go to heaven.”
The Nobel Peace Prize
Chief Luthuli won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960, for advocating non-violent resistance to racial discrimination. He was president of the ANC at the time, and was restricted to Groutville in KwaZulu-Natal, but was granted special permission to travel to Norway to receive the prize.
In his acceptance speech, Chief Luthuli said: “It is idle to speak of our country as being in peace, because there can be no peace in any part of the world where there are people oppressed.”
Thirty-three years later, Mr Mandela received the same prize, jointly with Mr FW De Klerk, for his contribution to peace.