Albert Lutuli

Albert Lutuli
Albert Luthuli
President of the African National Congress
In office
Preceded by James Moroka
Succeeded by Oliver Tambo
Personal details
Born c. 1898
Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia
Died July 21, 1967(1967-07-21)
Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Political party African National Congress
Spouse(s) Nokukhanya Bhengu
Statue of Albert Lutuli at Nobel Square at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

Albert John Lutuli (commonly spelled Luthuli;[1] c. 1898 – 21 July 1967), also known by his Zulu name Mvumbi, was a South African teacher and politician. Lutuli was elected president of the African National Congress (ANC), at the time an umbrella organisation that led opposition to the white minority government in South Africa. He was awarded the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the non-violent struggle against apartheid. He was the first African, and the first person from outside Europe and the Americas, to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


Early life

The third son of Seventh-day Adventist missionary John Bunyan Lutuli and Mtonya Gumede, Albert Lutuli was born near Bulawayo in what was then called Rhodesia, around 1898. His father died, and he and his mother returned to her ancestral home of Groutville in KwaDukuza (Stanger), Natal, South Africa. 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 accepted the post of principal and only teacher at a primary school in rural Blaauwbosch, Newcastle, Natal. Here Luthuli 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 black Africans who had had voting rights — those in Cape Province. In 1948 the Nationalist Party, which was in control of the government, adopted the policy of apartheid (apartness) and over the next decade the Pass Laws were tightened.

In 1944 Lutuli joined the African National Congress (ANC). In 1945 he was elected to the Committee of the KwaZulu Province 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, he was dismissed from his chieftainship.

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 two two-year bans on Lutuli's movement. When the second ban expired in 1956, he attended an ANC conference only to be arrested and charged with treason a few months later, along with 155 others. In December 1957, after nearly a year in custody during the preliminary hearings, Lutuli was released and the charges against him and sixty-four of his compatriots 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 ten days in early December 1961 to permit Lutuli and his wife to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo, an award described by 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 realising 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 Africanist 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, founding the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). 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 Provincial ANC publicly launched Umkhonto we Sizwe at the All In Conference, 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 Mandela's autobiography, he insists that Lutuli was consulted and consented before the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe.)

In 1962 he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow by the students, serving until 1965. Since he was banned from travelling to Glasgow the Luthuli Scholarship Fund was setup by the Student Representative Council to enable a black South African student to study at Glasgow University.

In 1962 he published an autobiography titled: LET MY PEOPLE GO

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 1966, he was visited by United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was visiting the South Africa at the time. The two discussed the ANC's struggle. Senator Kennedy's visit to the country, and his meeting with Lutuli in particular, caused an increase of world awareness of the plight of black South Africans.

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


Lutuli is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on July 21.

See also

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  1. ^ South African History Online, biography of Chief Albert John Luthuli: "Note about names: Luthuli's surname is very often spelled Luthuli, as it is in his autobiography, which was prepared for publication by non-vernacular-speaking friends. But Luthuli himself preferred another spelling and signed his name without an h."

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Viscount Hailsham
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Baron Reith
National Conferences

38th (1949) · 39th (1950) · 40th (1951) · 41st (1952) · 42nd (1953) · 43rd (1954) · 44th (1955) · 45th (1957) · 46th (1958) · 47th (1959) · 48th (1991) · 49th (1994) · 50th (1997) · 51st (2002) · 52nd (2007)

Structure and wings Related organizations

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