As we celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela on Mandela Day this year, we also mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Chief Albert Luthuli. These are two of the greatest political giants birthed out of Africa who have left indelible imprints in the world.
As we mark this anniversary we need to uncover Inkosi Albert Luthuli’s leadership qualities and try to understand Luthuli as one of the greatest leaders of all time. Luthuli exemplified moral and practical convergence and much like Nelson Mandela, had the ability to think futuristically. Between these two leaders there is much to learn about selfless leadership that strives to achieve goals beyond yourself for the people you lead. The lessons of his life and quality of leadership are relevant for all South Africans but particularly leaders, especially in these times when challenges of leadership within the ANC are clearly evident.
Inkosi Albert Luthuli reached his untimely death after an accident on the railway bridge in Groutville in KwaZulu-Natal on 21 July 1967. He was Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 1960, and was President-General of the African National Congress (ANC) from December 1952 until his death in 1967. Chief Luthuli was the most widely known and respected African leader of his era. Perhaps it is no coincidence that his Zulu name, Mvumbi, means continuous rain; it is most certain that his leadership attributes will indeed continuously rain down throughout the ages. He was a man of principle and a leader of unquestionable integrity, who remained loyal and committed to the cause of freedom and justice until the very end. His approach to leadership as well as his role in the struggle are well captured in his autobiography, Let My People Go.
Inkosi Luthuli’s proven dedication to the ANC, his eloquence, his choice of the ANC over the chieftaincy, and his character which was beyond reproach, led to him being regarded as a natural choice to take over the helm of the ANC.
Luthuli was indeed a powerful leader, intolerant of mediocrity and self-enrichment. Although he described himself as a militant those who had the privilege of meeting him also described him as gentle and tender. He was a committed and loyal servant of the people. This is important in our time when images of leadership depict men out of touch with the reality our people face. There must be an understanding that in order to call ourselves true African leaders we have to be a true servant of the society we live in. Inkosi Luthuli understood this and embraced this servant-hood mentality in his leadership style. It was his political consciousness that enabled him to see himself as a servant of the oppressed people that he led in the Congress.
Perhaps Luthuli’s greatest weapon as a leader was his ability to listen carefully and intently before embarking on a course of action. He displayed outstanding and enviable qualities as a leader and under his leadership the ANC soared to even greater heights. We can learn much from his selfless dedication and unrelenting spirit in his pursuit of freedom for all.
Inkosi Luthuli was always conscious of his role as a leader. He sums this up through these words: “… a chief is primarily a servant of his people.” Kenneth Kaunda (2005) cites these words in his Luthuli Memorial Lecture as he points out that Luthuli always had unfailing courtesy towards others. He teaches us that in order to be an effective leader it is of fundamental importance to have the aspirations of our people in the forefront of our minds.
Luthuli teaches us leaders that real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people he did so by abandoning his chieftaincy and his unwavering commitment to the ANC. It is without a doubt that he traversed down paths of ethical leadership that are rarely traversed by present leaders.
As we forge ahead as leaders, in our continued efforts to renew the ANC and revive its character and values we are reminded that this is a collective effort. Inkosi Luthuli emphasised this point that the success of the African National Congress was not attributed to one single leader and thus the organisation was not a one-man show. In working towards that renewal, it remains an imperative for us to draw lessons and inspiration from the fact that Inkosi Luthuli led the ANC during a turbulent period of repression, but let us not forget that this was also an exciting invigorating time, as the people responded in various ways, fighting for their freedom and being emancipated mentally from the clutches of an oppressive regime.
Inkosi Luthuli was a formidable leader who possessed an indefatigable commitment to the ideals of democracy. He was a visionary who recognised the potential of South Africa and the ANC to make a vital contribution to the world. This must be a vision that is upheld through the ages and filtered down through the generation of leaders of the ANC.
As we celebrate Mandela Day and seek to honour the legacy that both Mandela and Luthuli have left us with, we are reminded that this day serves as a global call to action; it’s built on the notion that we each have the power to transform the world and make a positive impact on our surroundings. This must be done with a deep understanding of the selfless actions of our great leaders in ensuring we enjoy the freedoms we do today. But more than that is a commitment to bring ideals and policies to volition through actual implementation and action. This is what set Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela apart and this is exactly what will set us apart as leaders. The realisation that material gain and revenge can never be pursued at the expense of the integrity of our democracy.
In 1964 Inkosi Albert Luthuli uttered these words: “Their ANC leader’s policies are in accordance with the deepest international principles of brotherhood and humanity, without their leadership, brotherhood and humanity may be blasted out of existence in South Africa for long decades to come.” These words remain a stark reminder of the precepts upon which the leadership of the ANC was built. As we forge ahead amidst much criticism against the leadership of the once revered ANC we must internalise these words. We must hear these words manifest through our actions. As a leadership of our beautiful ANC let us heed the call to act decisively, with fairness and in unity.
We must follow in the footsteps of Inkosi Albert Luthuli, his value and his ideals which he made a reality through his actions or risk as he so rightly stated, brotherhood and humanity being blasted out of existence. DM