Making Peace marks 40th anniversary of Albert Luthuli’s death
Address by Ahmed Kathrada on the occasion of the launch of the exhibition Making Peace
19 July 2007
JULY 19 2007 – On July 21, we will mark the 40th anniversary of the sudden death of Chief Albert Luthuli. Those of us who had the privilege of having known him personally and having worked with him, will remember him as a great human being, with a combination of qualities that single him out as one of the most outstanding leaders of our country. Chief Luthuli was a man of exceptional foresight, courage, dignity, compassion and generosity of spirit.
Above all, he was a man with unwavering principles. On our long road to freedom it is appropriate to highlight these fundamental principles, because they formed the foundation stones of our fledgling democracy. They are the principles of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.
It was Chief’s refusal to renounce these commitments that led to his being deprived of his chieftainship by the apartheid regime. It was for this that he was banned from public gatherings and physically confined to the small village of Groutville in KwaZulu-Natal. It was for these principles that he and his 155 comrades were arrested and charged with High Treason in December 1956.
On the other hand, it was in recognition of his firm commitment to these principles that he, together with Father Trevor Huddleston and Dr Yusuf Dadoo, was the recipient of the Isithwalandwe Award at the historic Congress of the People in 1955, where the Freedom Charter was adopted. And furthermore, while the pariah apartheid regime chose to regard and punish him as an enemy, the democratic world responded by conferring upon him the Nobel Peace Prize – the very first on the African continent to be so honoured.
Today, 13 years into our democracy, when the people of South Africa and the world continue to laud our peaceful transition to democracy, we remember the influence of the Freedom Charter’s Preamble, which emphatically proclaimed:
“We the people of South Africa declare for all our country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white …”
In less than a year after the Freedom Charter was adopted, Chief Luthuli unequivocally echoed its principles in June 1956, in response to some racist comments made by a fellow oppressed countryman:
“The African National Congress is not interested in making its African majority a tyranny to other groups … The ANC has no desire to make the African majority the tyranny of numbers … I have said it in the past, and I repeat it here, that to me Africa is a land for all who are in it …”
With the principles of non-racialism firmly embedded in the ANC’s policy, and for which many have been exiled, banned, tortured, imprisoned and killed, it was to be expected that when, in the face of a death sentence, Nelson Mandela told the Court:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
In keeping with this pledge, he emerged from prison after 27 years, with the spirit of the Freedom Charter still cast in stone. Without feelings of bitterness, hatred and revenge; but with the message of forgiveness, friendship, reconciliation and nation-building. The overwhelming majority of the people of South Africa responded with enthusiasm. They rejected the prophesies of doom, gloom, disruption and violence, and unitedly ensured that on 27th April 1994, our country would have a peaceful transformation from apartheid to a non-racial democracy. This historic event earned the applause and goodwill of the admiring world.
In keeping with the Freedom Charter, and the exemplary leadership of Chief Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Bram Fischer, Yusuf Dadoo, Walter Sisulu and others, President Mandela reiterated their message in his Inaugural address on 10 May 1994:
“We are all one nation in one country. Each one of us is intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous Jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the Mimosa trees of the bushveld …
We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
It is with these words, and this message that we meet to remember, and to celebrate the life and legacy of Chief Luthuli. It is a sacred legacy that all of us need to protect and to perpetuate.
– Ahmed Kathrada