If you savour peace, then you should pay at least one visit to a veritable shrine to an architect of democracy, freedom and non-racism, Chief Albert Luthuli, in the quaint KwaZulu-Natal north coast town of Groutville.
Sit at a desk and flip through the pages of the same book that Africa’s first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was reading in the week he died.
Walking through the kitchen of the same house where Chief Luthuli lived, you cannot miss the pristine wood-and coal stove on which the great man’s meals were prepared.
Spend a day in Groutville and its surrounds and be treated to a mix of struggle politics, religion, Zulu time-honoured leadership and sumptuous traditional meals.
Groutville, birthplace of poet and author, BW Vilakazi
Groutville, a peri-urban settlement, is situated some 10km to the south of KwaDukuza (formerly known as Stanger), cushioned among the fertile sugar cane hills. Groutville was formerly a mission reserve administered by a Chief elected by the Christian community (AbaseMakholweni). It was previously known as the Umvoti Mission Reserve, until it was renamed Groutville after the first missionary from the American Board of Commissioners, Reverend Aldin Grout.
Reverend Grout and his wife Charlotte arrived in KwaZulu-Natal in 1836, and after failing to make substantial progress in deep Zululand, Grout and his wife settled near the Umvoti River. As Groutville was a mission reserve, the church played an important role in the administration of African affairs, but was not immune to colonial administration. There was a resident magistrate and Groutville fell within the broader Stanger Magisterial District.
Most of the early residents of Groutville became sugar cane planters or peasant farmers. When Reverend Grout was still a missionary at Umvoti he introduced a system of ‘individual land ownership’, which encouraged people to cultivate and till the land. Due to the success of farming in the area, a sugar mill was built to support aspiring African farmers.
Unknown to many people, Groutville also has the distinction of having been the birthplace of one of South Africa’s literary pioneers, the poet and author, BW Vilakazi. Groutville currently has a primary school that is named after him, Vilakazi Primary School.
Luthuli family embedded in Groutville
Chief Albert Luthuli’s family contributed a great deal to the history of Groutville. His grandparents, Ntaba Luthuli and Titisi Luthuli, were amongst the first converts to Christianity when Reverend Grout set up a mission in the Umvoti area which was to become modern-day Groutville.
Both Ntaba and Titisi Luthuli became the backbones of the Christian community. Ntaba Luthuli became the second chief of the Umvoti Mission Reserve’s Christian Community and also taught at one of the mission schools. Martin Luthuli, Albert’s uncle, was a democratically elected chief and at one stage acted as King Dinuzulu’s secretary and later became the chairperson of the Pastor’s Conference with the Congregational Church. He also played an important role in the formation of the Natal Native Congress.
Albert Luthuli was born in Solusi Mission, near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1898 – the son of a translator and Seventh Day Adventist mission worker, John Bunyan Luthuli and his wife Mtonya. His father died shortly after his birth and in 1908 the family returned to their ancestral home in Groutville.
He started his school career at a nearby mission school and later went on to study at the Ohlange Institute which was founded by Dr John Dube, the first president of the African National Congress.
Albert Luthuli went on to do a two-year teacher training course at a Methodist institution in Edendale, near Pietermaritzburg and later accepted his first post – the running of a small school at Blaauwbosch in the Natal Midlands. He trained further at Adams College and on completion of his studies was offered a bursary from Fort Hare University. He turned this down and instead chose to continue teaching as part of the staff of Adams Collage to support his family.
In 1927 he married Nokukhanya Bengbu, granddaughter of the Zulu Chief Dhlokolo of the Ngcolosi. Between the years 1929 and 1945 the couple had seven children.
In 1928 Albert Luthuli was elected secretary of the African Teachers Association, a position he held until 1933, when he became president of the same body, founding the Zulu Language and Cultural Society as its auxiliary.
Groutville represented a microcosm of the greater context and the complexities affecting all South Africans of colour. There was a lack of arable land, mass restrictions and rampant migrant labour due to lack of other employment opportunities available in the area. All the hardships that people experienced in Groutville influenced Albert Luthuli to look at the broader context of South Africa, where he realised that the plight of the African was a national problem, not only confined to the people of Groutville.
In 1936, Albert Luthuli took up the position of Chief to which he had been elected by the Abasemakholweni people. He joined the ANC in 1945 and the next year, was elected to the Native Representative Council, an advisory body that was later abandoned.
Albert Luthuli served on the executive committee of the Christian Council of South Africa and was one of its delegates to an International Missionary Conference held in Madras, India, in 1938. In 1948, he accepted a lecture tour of the United States under the patronages of the American Board and the North American Missionary Conference.
Luthuli joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and was elected onto the executive committee of the Natal branch in 1945. In 1946 he was elected onto the short-lived Native Representative Council, to replace Dr Dube who had died of a stroke.
Luthuli’s path of conflict with government
In 1951 his position as president of the ANC Natal branch put him on a path of conflict with his government-sanctioned role as a chief. His public support for the Defiance Campaign of 1952, a non-violent protest against the repressive Pass Laws, was a prime example of this. He was later deposed as chief and issued a public statement called ‘The Road to Freedom is via the Cross’ to the press.
In 1952 Albert Luthuli was elected the President General of the ANC and together with the then provincial president for the ANC in Transvaal, Nelson Mandela and nearly 100 others, faced a government banning order.
In 1953, the government served Luthuli with a one-year banning order which was renewed on 11 July 1954. The banning order prohibited Luthuli from attending public gatherings and confined him to the Stanger (KwaDukuza) magisterial district for two years. Luthuli was given a total of four banning orders during his lifetime.
In 1956, Chief Luthuli – along with 145 other leaders – was arrested on a charge of high treason. He was released in the early stages of the trial and though repeated banning and arrests were causing operational difficulties for the ANC leadership, Chief Luthuli was re-elected as President General in 1955 and then again in 1958. It was a position he held until his untimely death in 1967.
During this period, Chief Luthuli endured the harshness of a repressive regime. On 21 March 1960, when hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in the Sharpeville Township were massacred, Chief Luthuli publicly burnt his passbook and called on South Africans to observe a national day of mourning. He was detained and given a suspended sentence and then released.
He was further confined to a smaller area around his home under the Suppression of Communism Act and banned from receiving visitors, issuing statements and attending church services.
International icon in the cause of human dignity
In 1961, for his outstanding efforts to secure political freedom in apartheid South Africa, Chief Luthuli received the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize. Facing mounting pressure nationally and internationally, the South African government permitted Chief Luthuli to travel to Norway to receive his award.
A year later he was not allowed to travel to United Kingdom when he was appointed honorary rector of the University of Glasgow in 1962. In the same year, his autobiography ‘Let My People Go’ was published.
Recognition of Chief Luthuli’s stature as an international icon in the cause of human dignity attracted many luminaries to his home, among who was United States Senator Robert Kennedy who paid him an unofficial visit in 1966. Kennedy and Luthuli had a private discussion about Luthuli’s vision for South Africa. Kennedy presented Chief Luthuli with a portable record player and a recording of speeches made by his brother, President John F Kennedy.
Chief Luthuli led the ANC until 21 July 1967, when while out on a walk near his home he was reportedly struck by a train and killed. At the time of his death he was still under a restriction order. His life, work and philosophy remain an enduring legacy to South Africa and the world.
Walk in Luthuli’s footsteps
Visitors will begin their free history lesson at the Luthuli Museum – Chief Luthuli’s house conserved in its original state – which is a national cultural institution charged with preserving, upholding, promoting and propagating the life, values, philosophies and legacy of the one-time president of the ANC.
The Luthuli Museum (www.luthulimuseum.org.za) was officially opened on 21 August 2004. Today, Chief Luthuli’s house is a national monument. Set in lovely landscaped gardens, the grounds provide the ideal setting in which to absorb the history and achievements of a man who became the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.
On the site in Nokukhanya Luthuli Street, is the modern Interpretative Centre that houses temporary exhibitions where visitors gather to mark openings, schoolchildren and learners participate in workshops or perhaps members of the public view its offerings. From tourists to learners, the Luthuli Museum staff are ready to welcome all visitors to the legacy of Chief Albert Luthuli. Admission is free.
Not far from the museum is the United Congregational Church where Chief Luthuli delivered sermons as a lay preacher.
To quell hunger pangs, treat yourself to a sumptuous braai at the upmarket TEN11 Lounge & Braai House in KwaDukuza.
Afterwards, spend time at the King Shaka Visitor Centre which marks the resting place of King Shaka Zulu – founder of the Zulu nation – who was killed on 24 September 1828 by two of his brothers.
For nature lovers, there is the Harold Johnson Nature Reserve on the south bank of the Tugela River, with picnic spots that have the most beautiful views of the river as it meanders its way to the sea. The small reserve offers walking trails, picnic sites, a small variety of game and a large variety of bird life.
And for those who prefer mixing some sport with outdoor travels, swing your clubs at the nearby Prince’s Grant Golf Course.
There’s no better place to find yourself surrounded by history, adventure and excitement than the KZN North Coast.
- For more information on the tourist attractions of KZN, visit www.zulu.org.za