800 Vusi Mzimela Road
031 240 1000
Inkosi Albert John Luthuli
Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia
Died: 21 July 1967
An Autobiographical Article, 1961
I was born of John Bunyan Luthuli of Groutville Mission Station by his wife Mtonya Luthuli, born Gumede. I was born in Southern Rhodesia at Solusia Mission Station, where my father was doing Christian missionary work as Evangelist-interpreter under the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I was born in 1898. I do not know the date of birth. My father, John Bunyan, was the second son of Ntaba Luthuli, a convert and follower of Rev. Aldin Groutville of the American Board Mission who, with three other missionaries, was sent out in 1835 by the American Board to do missionary work among the Zulus. The Rev. Groutville came south and established himself in what is now Groutville Mission Station. Officially the place is known as ”Umvoti Mission Reserve.”
My grandfather, Ntaba, was the second chief of the Groutville Community. Chieftainship in the Umvoti Mission is elective. It is not hereditary. In 1935, at the invitation of some elders of my tribe, I stood as candidate and won. Once elected you may be chief for life, unless you voluntarily resign or are deposed by the Government on its own initiative or at the request of the people. I was deposed by the Government in 1952 for participating in the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws. My predecessor was forced out because people became dissatisfied with his administration and requested the Government for an election.
I passed my Standard IV in 1914, then went to boarding schools up to Standard VI. At Edenvale Institution, a Methodist institution, I joined the Teachers’ Training Department. I graduated there as a teacher in 1917. After teaching for two years as head of a small intermediate school, I went to Adam’s College in 1920. Then I joined the staff of Amanzimtoti Institute (Adam’s College) as a teacher. I also acted as College Choir Master.
During my student days I became much interested in the work of the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Students’ Christian Association. I joined the Church when a teacher in 1918.
Fight for More Pay
I was President of the Natal African Teachers’ Union for two years. The union’s main concern was to strive for better wages and conditions of service. Eighteen pounds (sterling) per quarter and principal’s allowance was regarded as a princely salary, but it could not meet the normal needs of a man who must be exemplary in the community. Resigning from Adam’s College in 1935, I took up duties as Chief at Groutville Mission on January 1, 1936. My life as Chief followed conventional and routine duties. This involved holding courts to settle disputes and administrative work in settling family quarrels.
I interested myself in organising the African cane growers into an association. With the assistance of some elders of the tribe and younger men we formed the Groutville Bantu Cane Planters’ Association. There were then about 200 members, mostly very small growers, because land holdings were small. Because of overcrowding they now are on an average five acres each. The chieftainship introduced me directly into the vital problem of African life: their poverty, the repressive laws under which they operate.
I knew about the African National Congress as a teacher. My own senior paternal uncle, Chief Martin Luthuli, was a member. But it was only when I was chief that I became a member. I joined Congress about 1945 when Dr. Dube, the Natal President, was virtually bed-ridden through a stroke that incapacitated him until his death in 1946. In May, 1951, I stood against Mr. A. W. G. Champion for the provincial presidency. I won. The national body (A.N.C.) had in 1949 passed a programme through which the A.N.C. would pursue the freedom struggle by militant but non-violent methods. A.N.C. Leadership
It has been my privilege and arduous task to be in the leadership of the A.N.C. to help pilot it at a most testing time. I became provincial president in 1951. The first major effort was the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws in 1952. In the national election of December, 1952, I was nominated candidate. Dr. Moroka sought re-election. I won. Elections are held three-yearly. I have been re-elected on all occasions since then. I was still president-general when the A.N.C. was banned in March, 1960.
Hardly a year has passed without some demonstrations at national or provincial level. There have been national stay-at-homes. There has been a most significant political activity among African women since the Government decided in 1952 that African women, too, like their menfolk, must carry the hated pass – hated because of the suffering it causes. Since my first ban in 1953, I have virtually been under some ban to this day. My bans have been twofold: debarring me from attending gatherings and being confined to the magisterial area of Lower Tugela, Natal. The district, from my home, Groutville, has a radius of about 15 miles. Two previous bans debarred me from public gatherings. The five-year one I am serving now debars me from any gatherings, public or otherwise.
I was arrested on December 15, 1956, on a charge of treason. At the end of the lengthy preparatory examination in Johannesburg, I was committed in August, 1957, for trial with all of the others. My activities after release from the Treason Trial cost me my third ban. When this ban was a year old we were detained in 1960 from March to August under a State of Emergency. The A.N.C. added fuel to the fire by calling for a Day of Mourning for Sharpeville victims, and called upon the African people to burn their passes.
When serving my detention in Pretoria gaol with many others, I was charged with burning my pass and for inciting others. I was found guilty of burning my pass by way of demonstrating against a law. For this count I was sentenced to six months without the option of a fine, but suspended for three years, provided during this period I am not charged with a similar offence. No doubt, my ill-health made the magistrate give me a suspended sentence and an option of a fine. I am now home serving the five-year ban with the suspended sentence hanging over my head.
From Drum, Johannesburg, December 1961