Tribute by Nelson Mandela to Chief Luthuli on the 40th anniversary of his death

June 2007

We stand today on the shoulders of such giants

Chief Luthuli

It is with sadness that we remember the passing of our late president, Chief Albert Luthuli, forty years ago. He was one of the greatest leaders of our freedom struggle – a giant amongst leaders. We worked together in the ANC, we were accused together in the Treason Trial, we were detained together, and he gave evidence for the accused in the Rivonia Trial. We miss him.

I have spoken often, and written, about my relationship with Chief Luthuli. Here I recall just a few key moments to illuminate what was an outstanding life by any standards.

Chief Luthuli was testifying in the Treason Trial on 21 March 1960 when the Sharpeville massacre shattered our country, changing it forever. Shortly afterwards he was one of the leaders to publicly burn his pass, never to carry it again.

In the State of Emergency that followed Sharpeville, Chief Luthuli was amongst the thousands of comrades detained by police. When we learned that he had been assaulted, it was hard for us to take. A man of immense dignity and achievement, a lifelong Christian and a man with a dangerous heart condition, was treated like a barnyard animal by men who were not fit to tie his shoes.

I also had the privilege, on many occasions, to go to Groutville in KwaZulu-Natal to consult with the Chief after he was banned, including to report to him on the progress of our efforts to set up Umkhonto weSizwe.

Despite the regime’s efforts to silence him, the Luthuli name became a colossal symbol of peace and unity, far beyond the horizons of Groutville and even the borders of South Africa. We stand today on the shoulders of such giants.

The Chief chose a life of hardship and persecution when he demanded ‘Let my people go!’ In doing so he taught us a very important lesson – that real leaders must be prepared to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.

His leadership was not only valued at home. It was also noticed internationally and was recognized when the Nobel Committee chose him as the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

We remember the words of his Nobel acceptance speech on 11 December 1961: “Our vision has always been that of a non-racial democratic South Africa which upholds the rights of all who live in our country to remain there as full citizens with equal rights and responsibilities with all others. For the consummation of this ideal we have laboured unflinchingly. We shall continue to labour unflinchingly.”

It is in his memory and that of the thousands of other comrades who sacrificed so much for our freedom that we continue to labour for the growth of our democracy.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation