Chief Albert John Luthuli
‘I felt my world shattering into pieces around me and I had to pull over and collect myself; I don’t know how long I sat there before driving home.”

In an exclusive interview with Independent Media, Dr Albertina Luthuli shared her vivid memories of the day Chief Albert Luthuli, her father, died 50 years ago.

The ANC veteran, who was 35 years old at the time, was driving from her practice in Hammersdale to Clermont when the tragic news was broadcast on Radio Zulu.

Described as a man of peace by those who were close to him, such as IFP leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Luthuli succumbed to wounds he allegedly suffered in a train accident in his hometown of Groutville, outside Stanger. He was 69-years-old.

Chief Albert Luthuli at his spaza shop in Groutville, KwaZulu-Natal, in the 1960s. His family don’t believe apartheid authorities’ claims that he was accidently knocked down by a train in 1967. Picture: Ranjith Kelly

Luthuli’s family believe that something more sinister happened that fateful Friday in July 1967, but they are conflicted about whether to push on with their wish to reopen the investigation into his death.

“My father was a meticulous man and my mom always teased him about how he was careful to a fault.

“To say he could have walked on to the railway tracks without having repeatedly checked that there was no train coming is absurd,” Albertina said.

She has been calling for the reopening of the investigation into her father’s death since last year with hopes that people with infor- mation on what happened would come forward.

But that has not happened.

“The reality is that my father was probably the No1 enemy of the state at that time because of ANC activities such as the famous Defiance Campaign.

“When he died he was on one of the many banning orders that had been brought against him in attempts to shut him up,” the ANC veteran and former MP said.

Remembering the man he called his mentor, Buthelezi said the then-ANC president, Luthuli, knew that his life was at risk all the time because the organisation had intensified its struggle against the apartheid regime.

He said Luthuli was also aware that his home was bugged so conversations of a political nature were always held outside.

“Inkosi Luthuli pioneered a path of greatness for many oppressed South Africans,” Buthelezi said.

“The historic reality told us we would never amount to anything and should not seek to rise above our imposed low station.

“Inkosi Albert Luthuli, however, became the first South African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and his victory told us that we could be anything our hearts dared to dream.”

Chief Albert Luthuli, the banned leader of the ANC, meets US Senator Robert Kennedy, in Groutville on June 8, 1966.

The Luthulis believe that his two biggest sins were receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 and the visit by US Senator Robert Kennedy in 1966.

“The government tried by all means to stop him from going abroad to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and that drew international attention to the ANC, which was the last thing the state wanted,” Albertina said.

“We started receiving support from all over the world because people realised that we wanted a fair and just government and were tired of being oppressed.”

She added that Kennedy defied the South African government and as a result, only American security personnel accompanied him when he visited the banned leader in his Groutville home.

“They (the government) could not punish the Norwegian committee, even though they condemned them and they could also not punish Senator Kennedy, even though they refused to offer him any security.

“My father was an easy target because everyone knew that he walked that path at least three times a week to go check on the farmworkers before they knocked off at 11am.”

She expressed her disappointment that no one had come forward with information during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, saying knowing the truth would have given the family the closure they sought.

Albertina Luthuli is the daughter of former ANC president Albert Luthuli. File picture: Gcina Ndwalane/Independent Media

Commenting based on her experience as a medical doctor, Albertina said her father’s injuries were not similar to those of the train accident victims she had seen during her career.

“He was not unrecognisable as most victims and there was very little blood on the scene. He was also awake for a couple of hours.

“The coroner’s reports suggest that he was partially blind and could not hear well, which is false.

“His injuries were mostly around the shoulders and there was some contusion on the skull, but I don’t believe that could have killed him. In fact, we have a hard time believing that report because that was the state’s coroner and we all knew that the government wanted my father dead.”

Luthuli said they had discussed the possibility of reopening the investigation but it was difficult because there were no witnesses, and the reports on the incident were all compiled by the state and therefore open to manipulation like most alleged accidents and murders during the apartheid regime.

“We have not totally written off the idea, but at the same time we don’t want to reopen old wounds and drag everyone through an emotional roller-coaster if there is not even a slim chance that we might get to the truth.

“In the meantime, we will consult further with anyone who could assist and see where that takes us,” she said.

Echoing Luthuli’s sentiments, Buthelezi said he has always been suspicious of how the late leader died, adding that he would support the family should they choose to pursue the reopening of the investigation.

“Most of us were sceptical about the reasons that were given and the descriptions of how he died.

“There has always been that question mark.”

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Independent Media