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Rest in peace, Mkhize, and may your words on Chief Luthuli result in meaningful action

Important Mkhize (left) and Dr Pali Lehohla commemorate Chief Albert Luthuli with (right) Professor Mosa Moshabela, Associate Professor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation (Acting) at the at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Supplied

Important Mkhize (left) and Dr Pali Lehohla commemorate Chief Albert Luthuli with (right) Professor Mosa Moshabela, Associate Professor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation (Acting) at the at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Supplied

Published Oct 9, 2023


THIS Monday, October 9, the Interfaith Forum of South Africa will be convening with fellow citizens to ask the question that many have asked and answered for themselves.

These were the youth of 1976 and earlier. These were men and women who were encouraged by the progress they had made by the time they joined their ancestors.

In the chain of command are Chief Albert Luthuli, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Charlotte Maxeke, Tsietsi Mashinini, Winnie Mandela, to mention but a few.

The chairperson of the Luthuli Museum Council found himself confronted by this question that Chief Luthuli answered in his own deeds, including on his last day on Earth in 1967.

On December 9, 2022, I met someone who was particularly important. His silver-grey beard immediately placed him in his own class. His wit and sense of humour displayed age at play.

He was about to deliver his last message. It was in preparation for the Annual Lecture of Chief Albert Luthuli that would be held the next day, on December 10. I was invited to deliver this lecture.

Although I met him over only two days, Ubaba Important Mkhize delivered important and memorable inputs that remained embossed in my brain. Mkhize’s life ended on this Earth on September 11 this year.

Mkhize held an important position in his life on behalf of South Africans. He was the chairperson of Luthuli Museum Council. The council’s premises are located at the Albert Luthuli Museum at 3233 Nokukhanya Luthuli Street, in Groutville, KwaDukuza.

The entire place is a museum because it is where the late Nokukhanya Luthuli exercised her trade and organised sugar farmers to participate in commercial agriculture and lead into other struggles.

As Mkhize took me through these spaces, little did I imagine that 10 months from then he would be gone. A gentle soul of moderate tastes that under-girded his principles of advancing a just society were palpable.

Our visit to the grave where the remains of both Chief Albert Luthuli and Nokukhanya Luthuli are buried, which was declared by former president Jacob Zuma as a heritage site, is one that every South African should visit.

Our meeting with Dr Albertina Luthuli later in the afternoon revealed the intimate pain that both Mkhize and Albertina felt about a country that is now on autopilot and in a free fall.

It is when important people depart that often a question is asked to those who propel a sinner’s talk, which says if God were eager for some soul, I would list a thousand such souls for you to take, only if you can leave Mkhize to live for our sake.

But God’s time is God’s time. It acts in ways well beyond our control.

In Mkhize’s opening remarks, he reminded us of the destruction of the most important unit of society, which is the family destroyed by the forces of colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. This has far-reaching consequences on the current.

He asked that there are readily useful lessons that we should deploy to understand what Chief Luthuli understood then, in order for the status quo to be changed. Chief Luthuli, seeing the naked callousness of apartheid, immersed himself in ensuring that he would remain a hewer of wood and a drawer of water.

Mkhize dedicated his talk to Chief Luthuli, whose contributions led to our liberation. His message reflected on the people’s mobilisation to land us in 1994. But currently he argued that we need to rededicate ourselves to the ambitions of Chief Luthuli.

Mkhize had a dedicated message to South Africa in ensuring that the youth of South Africa should experience a better life.

He argued that Chief Luthuli was not a man of words only and, at that, words without effect and effort without results. He was a man who followed up on a mission. He urged us to fight with conviction.

We should, like Chief Luthuli, refuse to languish in the moment of despair. We should go far beyond the call of duty. Only when we have done so can the efforts of Chief Luthuli rest peacefully.

He concluded that the memorial lecture should drive us to aspire to do more individually and collectively, especially focusing on future leaders, our youth, to make them see South Africa as a worthwhile home in which to live.

Will the Interfaith Forum of South Africa emulate Chief Albert Luthuli? This summit should come out with an answer of what should be the claims of the 99% who are left behind in the struggle for freedom.

When we answer the questions in deeds, the spirit of Luthuli can speak to all through the mortal remains of Important Mkhize. May the Soul of Important Mkhize rest in peace.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the director of the Economic Modelling Academy, a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits, and a distinguished alumnus of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.