Albertinah Luthuli mourns Baba

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By elevating Madiba to almost saintly status, we might miss the challenge of trying to match him, says the writer. File photo: Mike Hutchings

Durban - Nelson Mandela was “a reflection” of another great ANC president and Nobel laureate, Chief Albert Luthuli, according to the late chief’s daughter mourning not only the loss of a family friend, but the generation he represented.

Recalling fond memories of the man she knew as “Baba Mandela”, Dr Albertinah Luthuli said she had seen the evolution of Mandela from the “energetic, impatient man of his youth”.

“He mellowed down and made sure things were well thought out. I could see he was a reflection of my own father.”

Luthuli said she had been shocked to hear of Mandela’s death while she was driving to her home in Ballito.

“It was like a being hit with a thunderbolt,” she said. “When my dad died, I was driving from Hammarsdale when I heard about it on the radio so I feel for people who have to hear the news that way.”

Growing up in Groutville in the 1950s, Mandela, along with other members of the ANC’s national executive council, including Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, would congregate at the Luthuli home where they were welcomed as family, she said.

“My mother, Nokukhanya, would call on us to bake for them. It was a great honour.”

Luthuli said Mandela and his fellow NEC members treated them as they would their own families.

“When I first met Baba Mandela, I could see this one had the impatience of youth, he wanted things to be done now. My dad would say that Mandela was a strong leader who came with good ideas,” she said.

When Albert Luthuli died in 1967, Mandela - although incarcerated and with limited access to the outside world - managed to keep up the correspondence with Nokukhanya.

“He saw my mother as his mother. When he came out of prison in 1990, he went to Groutville to see my mother and visit the grave of my father to pay his respects to the fallen leader,” Luthuli said.

“When my mother died in 1997, Mandela arranged a huge funeral for her in Groutville.”

Over the years, Luthuli kept in close contact with Mandela and, despite increasing demands on his schedule, he always made time to meet with her.

“My youngest daughter, Lindie, got married in the late 1990s and I wanted Mandela to be there as my father. He agreed to come and everyone was so excited,” she said.

“The day before the wedding, he said he would be late but he would still attend and he did. As he walked in, everybody shifted their attention to him. He just had that presence you could not ignore. He was overpowering. I felt for him sometimes. He would rather be with people, mingling, but it was not to be.”

On hearing of his declining health three years ago, Luthuli took her two grandsons to visit Mandela in Houghton.

“I wanted to see him and for him to see the product of the wedding he attended. We were so welcomed,” Luthuli said.

“His going means that the generation which he represented is gone. He was the last of the generation and that is tough for some of us.”

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