One of my bigger jobs last year was to prepare a revised edition of the HSRC Press’s book, Voices of Liberation: Albert Luthuli, originally edited by Gerald Pillay in 1993. The biggest part of that work was researching and writing a section on Luthuli’s legacy. In pursuit of a more intimate understanding of one of South Africa’s greatest leaders, and the continent’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner, I interviewed some of those who still remember him in person: Ben Turok, one of the last Treason Trialists still in Parliament; Pallo Jordan, a former ANC exile, cabinet minister and renowned historian; and Ela Gandhi, grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi, and daughter to Manilal Gandhi, who was a close associate of Luthuli.
It was amazing to meet and talk to these three veterans of South African struggle history, and to build up through their eyes, an image of a truly remarkable man. Though Mandela’s legacy perhaps now outshines Luthuli in popular memory, the latter was certainly no less remarkable.
One of the key questions about the life of Luthuli is the extent to which he did, or didn’t, support the beginning of the armed struggle against apartheid, led by Mandela. It is clear that while a deep commitment to non-violence was more than just a strategic principle for Luthuli, a man of profound Christian faith who was inspired by Gandhi, it seems it also became impossible for him to stand against the pressure of oppression and hatred of oppression that eventually precipitated the armed struggle. Continue reading