Albert Luthuli Bound by Faith


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by Scott Couper

Much public historical mythology asserts that Chief Albert Luthuli, former president of the African National Congress (ANC), launched an armed struggle upon his return to South Africa after having received the Nobel Peace Prize. This misinterpretation sparks what is arguably one of the most relevant and controversial historical debates in South Africa. Due to Luthuli’s domestic and international prominence and his impeccable moral character, politicians and political parties justify, in part, their past actions and their contemporary relevance through a contrived historical memory. Often, that memory is not compatible with the archival record. Contrary to a nationalist inspired historical perspective, this book argues that Luthuli did not support the initiation of violence in December 1961. Luthuli’s ecclesiastical tradition, Congregationalism, embedded within him the primacy of democracy, education, sacrificial service, multiracialism, and egalitarianism, propelling him to the heights of political leadership. However, these same seminal emphases rendered Luthuli obsolete as a political leader within an increasingly radicalized, desperate, and violent environment. While the Christian faith fuelled his political success, it engendered his irrelevance following the ANC’s resort to violence. By not supporting the ANC’s armed movement, Luthuli’s political career proved to be ‘bound by faith.’