November 1952

A Public Statement made by Albert Luthuli after he was dismissed from his position as Chief by the government in November 1952. It was issued jointly by the African National Congress and the Natal Indian Congress.

I have been dismissed from the Chieftainship of the Abase-Makolweni Tribe in the Groutville Mission reserve. I presume that this has been done by the Governor General in his capacity as Supreme Chief of the “native” people of the Union of South Africa save those of the Cape Province. I was democratically elected to this position in 1935 by the people of Groutville Mission reserve and was duly approved and appointed by the Governor General.

Previous to being a chief I was a school teacher for about seventeen years. In these past thirty years or so I have striven with tremendous zeal and patience to work for the progress and welfare of my people and for their harmonious relations with other sections of our multi-racial society in the Union of South Africa. In this effort I always pursued what liberal-minded people rightly regarded as the path of moderation. Over this great length of time I have, year after year, gladly spent hours of my time with such organisations as the church and its various agencies such as the Christian Council of South Africa, the Joint Council of Europeans and Africans and the now defunct Native Representative Council.

In so far as gaining citizenship rights and opportunities for the unfettered development of the African people, who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of my many years of moderation? Has there been any reciprocal tolerance or moderation from the government, be it Nationalist or United Party? No! On the contrary, the past thirty years have seen the greatest number of Laws restricting our rights and progress until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all: no adequate land for our occupation, our only asset, cattle, dwindling, no security of homes, no decent and remunerative employment, more restrictions to freedom of movement through passes, curfew regulations, influx control measures; in short we have witnessed in these years an intensification of our subjection to ensure and protect white supremacy.

It is with this background and with a full sense of responsibility that, under the auspices of the African National Congress 9Natal), I have joined my people in the new spirit that moves them today, the spirit that revolts openly and boldly against injustice and expresses itself in a determined and non-violent manner. Because of my association with the African National Congress on this new spirit which has found an effective and legitimate way of expression in the Non-Violent Passive Resistance Campaign, I was given a two-week limit ultimatum by the Secretary for Native Affairs calling upon me to choose between the African National Congress and the chieftainship of the Groutville Mission Reserve. He alleged that my association with Congress in its Non-Violent Passive Resistance Campaign was an act of disloyalty to the state. I did not, and do not, agree with this view. Viewing non-violent passive resistance as a non-revolutionary and, therefore, a most legitimate and humane political pressure technique for a people denied all effective forms of constitutional striving, I saw no real conflict in my dual leadership of my people: leader of this tribe as chief and political leader in Congress.

I saw no cause to resign from either. This stand of mine which resulted in my being sacked from the chieftainship might seem foolish and disappointing to some liberal and moderate Europeans and non-Europeans with whom I have worked these many years and with whom I still hope to work. This is no parting of the ways but “a launching farther into the deep”. I invite them to join us in our unequivocal pronouncement of all legitimate African aspirations an in our firm stand against injustice and oppression. I do not wish to challenge my dismissal, but I would like to suggest that in the interest of the institution of chieftainship in these modern times of democracy, the government should define more precisely and make more widely known the status, functions and privileges of chiefs.

My view has been, and still is, that a chief is primarily a servant of his people. He is the voice of his people. He is the voice of his people in local affairs. Unlike a Native Commissioner, he is part and parcel of the Tribe, and not a local agent of the government. Within the bounds of loyalty it is conceivable that he may vote and press the claims of his people even if they should be unpalatable to the government of the day. He may use all legitimate modern techniques to get these demands satisfied. It is inconceivable how chiefs could effectively serve the wider and common interest of their own tribe without cooperating with other leaders of the people, both the natural leaders (chiefs) and leaders elected democratically by the people themselves.

It was to allow for these wider associations intended to promote the common national interests of the people as against purely local interests that the government in making rules governing chiefs did not debar them from joining political associations so long as those associations had not been declared “by the Minister to be subservice of or prejudicial to constituted government”. The African National Congress, its Non-violent Passive Resistance Campaign, may be of nuisance value to the government but it is not subversive since it does not seek to overthrow the form and machinery of the state but only urges for the inclusion of all sections of the community in a partnership in the government of the country on the basis of equality.

Laws and conditions that tend to debase human personality – a God-given force – be they brought about by the state or other individuals, must be relentlessly opposed in the spirit of defiance shown by St. Peter when he said to the rulers of his day: “Shall we obey God or man?” No one can deny that in so far as non-Whites are concerned in the Union of South Africa, laws and conditions that debase human personality abound. Any chief worthy of his position must fight fearlessly against such debasing conditions and laws. If the government should resort to dismissing such chiefs, it may find itself dismissing many chiefs or causing people to dismiss from their hearts chief who are indifferent to the needs of the people through fear of dismissal by the government. Surely the government cannot place chiefs in such an uncomfortable and invidious position.

As for myself, with a full sense of responsibility and a clear conviction, I decided to remain in the struggle for extending democratic rights and responsibilities to all sections of the South African community. I have embraced the non-Violent Passive Resistance technique in fighting for freedom because I am convinced it is the only non-revolutionary, legitimate and humane way that could be used by people denied, as we are, effective constitutional means to further aspirations. The wisdom or foolishness of this decision I place in the hands of the Almighty. What the future has in store for me I do not know. It might be ridicule, imprisonment, concentration camp, flogging, banishment and even death. I only pray to the Almighty to strengthen my resolve so that none of these grim possibilities may deter me from striving, for the sake of the good name of our beloved country, the Union of South Africa, to make it a true democracy and a true union in form and spirit of all the communities in the land.

My only painful concern at times is that of the welfare of my family but I will try even in this regard, in a spirit of trust and surrender to God’s will as I see it, to say: “God will provide”. It is inevitable that in working for Freedom some individuals and some families must take the lead and suffer: The Road to Freedom is via the CROSS.