Albert Luthuli

He has a street, famous for cheap chips and electronics, named after him in downtown Nairobi.

Albert Luthuli, a South African preacher, teacher, politician, activist and Nobel Prize winner, was held in such high esteem at the height of Pan-Africanism across the continent.

Lutuli, spelt Luthuli, was the President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1952 to 1960, the year he became the first African, and the first person outside Europe and the Americas, to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent role in the fight against the apartheid regime, which restricted his movements such that he received the Nobel Prize a year later.

In his speech, the son of a mchungaji father, John Bunyan Lutuli and Mama Nguo mother, Mtonye Gumede, said he considered the award “a recognition of the sacrifices made by the people of all races in South Africa, particularly the African people who have endured and suffered so much for so long”.

Born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Luthuli, whose other Zulu name was Mvumvi, meaning ‘continuous rain’, returned to South Africa after his father’s death in 1906.

He was 10 years old at the time. Educated as a teacher through scholarship and his mother’s meagre earnings at Adam’s College in Durban, Luthuli became one of three black instructors in South Africa in the 1920s.

 Luthuli Avenue, Nairobi

He quit teaching to become a chief in between heading the South African Football Federation, the Natal African Teachers Association and married fellow teacher Nokukhanya Bhengu who bore him seven children.

His dalliance with politics began in 1945 at the height of strikes by South African black miners. Seven years later, he was elected the head of the ANC, which opted to achieve human rights by deputation, petition, or mass protests but was countered with increasing repression.

Luthuli’s leadership of the ANC forced the apartheid regime to demand his resignation, but he declined arguing, that: “The road to freedom is via the cross.”

He was deposed, but continued leading mass protests, and in 1959, was placed under house arrest in his village in Groutville for five years for “promoting feelings of hostility” between races.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Luthuli observed that, “May the day come soon, when the people of the world will rouse themselves, and together effectively stamp out any threat to peace in whatever quarter of the world it may be found.”

Albert Luthuli died at the age of 69 on July 21, 1967 after he was hit by a freight train while crossing the trestle bridge over the Umvoti River near his small farm.