Chief of his tribe and president-general of the African National Congress, Albert John Lutuli (1898?- 1967) 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.
Background. Lutuli was heir to a tradition of tribal leadership. His grandfather was chief of his small tribe at Groutville near Stanger, Natal, and was succeeded by a son. Lutuli’s father was a younger son, John Bunyan Lutuli, who became a Christian missionary and spent most of the last years of his life in missions among the Matabele of Rhodesia. Lutuli’s mother, Mtonya Gumede, spent part of her childhood in the household of King Cetewayo but was raised in Groutville. She joined her husband in Rhodesia where Albert John, was born. By 1906 she and Albert John were back in Groutville.
He completed a middle school teachers’ course, became a head teacher. Then he retrained to teach at high school and became one of two Africans on the Adams College staff.
An educator for the next 15 years, Lutuli held that education should be available to all, that it should be liberal and not narrowly vocational and that it should be equal to that available to white children. He became president of the African Teacher’s Association.
Lutuli was also active in Christian church work as a lay preacher.. He became an adviser to the organized church and an executive member of the Christian Council of South Africa.
Lutuli married a fellow teacher, lived in Groutville, and raised 7 children. In 1933 the tribal elders asked him to become chief. He initially hesitated to give up profession and financial security but then devoted himself to the 5,000 people of his tribe. He was magistrate, the mediating function of an official representing his people and at the same time a representative of the government, the tribal function of a presiding dignitary at traditional festivities, and the executive function of a leader seeking better for his people.
In 1948 the Nationalist Party adopted apartheid, or “total apartness”; in the 1950s the Pass Laws, circumscribing the freedom of movement of Africans, were tightened.
In 1944 Lutuli joined the African National Congress, aiming to secure universal franchise and human rights. He became a leader and with others organized nonviolent campaigns to defy discriminatory laws. The government, demanded that he withdraw from the ANC or forfeit his office as tribal chief. Refusing to do either voluntarily, he was dismissed from his chieftainship, for chiefs hold office at the pleasure of the government.
A month later Lutuli was elected head of ANC. Immediately, the government sought to curtail his effectiveness by banning him from the larger centers and from public meetings. Over the next years, he was banned 4 x as well as being imprisoned. One ban was lifted for ten days in 1961 to permit Lutuli to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
At the age of sixty-nine, he was fatally injured when he was struck by a freight train as he walked on the trestle bridge over a river near his home. Abridged from The Nobel Prize