(1961) Albert Luthuli, “Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech”

Albert Luthuli
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In December 1960, Albert Luthuli, President of the African National Congress of South Africa, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the struggle against apartheid.  The South African government however, refused to allow Luthuli to leave the country to accept the award until December 1961.  His acceptance speech, delivered at the Great Hall, University of Oslo, on December 11, 1961, appears below.

In years gone by, some of the greatest men of our century have stood here to receive this award: men whose names and deeds have enriched the pages of human history, men whom future generations will regard as having shaped the world of our time. No one could be left unmoved at being plucked from the village of Groutville—a name many of you have never heard before and which does not even feature on many maps—to be plucked from banishment in a rural backwater, to be lifted out of the narrow confines of South Africa’s internal politics, and placed here in the shadow of these great figures. It is a great honor to me to stand on this rostrum where many of the great men of our times have stood before.

The Nobel peace award that has brought me here has for me a threefold significance. On of the one hand, it is a tribute to my humble contribution to efforts by democrats on both sides of the color lines to find a peaceful solution to the race problem. This contribution is not in any way unique. I did not initiate the struggle to extend the area of human freedom in South Africa; other African patriots—devoted men—did so before me. I also, as a Christian and patriot, could not look on while systematic attempts were made, almost in every department of life, to debase the God-factor in man or to set a limit beyond which the human being in his black form might not strive to serve his Creator to the best of his ability. To remain neutral for having created men of color was the sort of thing I could not, as a Christian, tolerate.

On the other hand, the Award is a democratic declaration of solidarity with those who fight to widen the area of liberty in my part of the world. As such, it is the sort of gesture which gives me, and millions who think as I do, tremendous encouragement. There are still people in the world today who regard South Africa’s race problem as a simple clash between Black and White. Our government has carefully projected this image of the problem before the eyes of the world. This has had two effects: it has confused the real issues at stake in the race crisis; it has given some form of force to the government’s contention that the race problem is a domestic matter for South Africa. This, in turn, has tended to narrow down the area over which our case could be better understood in the world.

From yet another angle, it is welcome recognition of the role played by the African people during the last fifty years to establish, peacefully, a society in which merit and not race would fix the position of the individual in the life of the nation.

This award could not be for me alone, nor for just South Africa, but for Africa as a whole. Africa presently is most deeply torn with strife and most bitterly stricken with racial conflict. How strange then it is that a man of Africa should be here to receive an award given for service to the cause of peace and brotherhood between men. There has been little peace in Africa in our time. From the northernmost end of our continent, where war has raged for seven years, to the center and to the south there are battles being fought out, some with arms, some without. In my own country, in the year 1960 for which this award is given, there was a state of emergency for many months. At Sharpeville, a small village, in a single afternoon 9 people were shot dead and 180 wounded by small arms fore; and in parts like the Transkeia state of emergency is still continuing. Ours is a continent in revolution against oppression. And peace and revolution make uneasy bedfellows. There can be not peace until the forces of oppression are overthrown.

Our continent has been carved up by the great powers: alien governments have been forced upon the African people by military conquest and by economic domination; strivings for nationhood and national dignity have been beaten down by force; traditional economics and ancient customs have been disrupted, and human skills and energy have been harnessed for the advantage of our conquerors. In these times there has been no peace; there could be no brotherhood between men.

But now the revolutionary stirrings of our continent are setting the past aside. Our people everywhere from north to south of the continent are reclaiming their land, their right to participate in government, their dignity as men, their nationhood. Thus, in the turmoil of revolution, the basis for peace and brotherhood in Africa is being restored by the resurrection of national sovereignty and independence, of equality and the dignity of man.

It should not be difficult for you here in Europe to appreciate this. Your continent passed through a longer series of revolutionary upheavals, in which your age of feudal backwardness gave way to the new age of industrialization, true nationhood, democracy, and rising living standards—the golden age for which men have striven for generations. Your age of revolution, stretching across all the years from the eighteenth century to our own, encompassed some of the bloodiest civil wars in all history. By comparison, the African revolution has swept across three quarters of the continent in less than a decade; its final completion is within sight of our own generation. Again by comparison with Europe, our African revolution, to our credit, is proving to be orderly, quick, and comparatively bloodless.

This fact of the relative peacefulness of our African revolution is attested to by other observers of eminence. Professor C. E. de Kiewiet, President of the University of Rochester in the U.S.A., in a Hoernle Memorial Lecture of 1960 has this to say: “There has, it is true, been almost no serious violence in the achievement of political self-rule. In that sense there is no revolution in Africa.

Professor D. V. Cowen, then Professor of Comparative Law at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in a Hoernle Memorial Lecture for 1961, throws light on the nature of our struggle in the following words: “They (the Whites in South Africa) are again fortunate in the very high moral caliber of the non-White inhabitants of South Africa, who compare favorably with any on the whole continent.” Let this never be forgotten by those who so eagerly point a finger of scorn at Africa.

Perhaps by your standards or surge to revolutionary reforms is late. If it is so—if we are late in joining the modern age of social enlightenment; late in gaining self rule, independence and democracy-it is because in the past the pace has not been set by us. Europe set the pattern for the nineteenth and twentieth century development of Africa. Only now is our continent coming into its own and recapturing its own fate from foreign rule.

Though I speak of Africa as a single entity, it is divided in many ways by race, language, history, and custom; by political, economic and ethnic frontiers. But in truth, despite these multiple divisions, Africa has a single common independence. All Africa both lands which have won their political victories but have still to overcome the legacy of economic backwardness and lands like my own, whose political battles have still to be waged to their conclusion—all Africa has this single air; our goal is a united Africa in which the standards of life and liberty are constantly expanding; in which the ancient legacy of illiteracy and disease is swept aside; in which the dignity of man is rescued from beneath the heels of colonialism which have trampled it. This goal, pursued by millions of our people with revolutionary zeal, by means of books, representations, demonstrations, and in some places armed force provoked by the adamancy of white rule, carries the only real promise of peace in Africa. Whatever means have been used, the efforts have gone to end alien rule and race oppression.

There is a paradox in the fact that Africa qualifies for such an award in its age of turmoil and revolution. How great is the paradox and how much greater the honor that an award in support of peace and the brotherhood of man should come to one who is a citizen of a country where the brotherhood of man is an illegal doctrine, outlawed, banned, censured, proscribed, and prohibited; where to work, talk, and campaign for the realization in fact and deed of the brotherhood of man is hazardous, punished with banishment of confinement without trial, or imprisonment; where effective democratic channels to peaceful settlement of the race problem have never existed these 300 years; and where white minority power rests on the most heavily armed and equipped military machine in Africa. This is South Africa.

Even here, where white rule seems determined not to change its mind for the better, the spirit of Africa’s militant struggle for liberty, equality, and independence asserts itself, I, together with thousands of my countrymen, have in the course of the struggle for these ideals been harassed and imprisoned, but we are not deterred in our quest for a new age in which we shall live in peace and in brotherhood.

It is not necessary for me to speak at length about South Africa; its social system, its politics, its economics and its laws have forced themselves on the attention of the world. It is a museum piece in our time, a hangover from the dark past of mankind, a relic of an age which everywhere else is dead of dying. Here the cult of race superiority and of white supremacy is worshipped like a god. Few white people escape corruption, and many of their children learn to believe that white men are unquestionably superior, efficient, clever, industrious, and capable; that black men are equally unquestionably—inferior, slothful, stupid; evil, and clumsy. On the basis of the mythology that “the lowest amongst them is higher than the highest amongst us”, it is claimed that white men build everything that is worthwhile in the country, its cities, its industries, its mines, and its agriculture, and that they alone are this fitted and entitled as of right to own and control these things, whilst black men are only temporary sojourners in these cities, fitted only for menial labor and unfit to share political power. The Prime minister of South Africa, Dr. Verwoerd, then minister of Bantu affairs, when explaining his government’s policy on African education, had this to say: “There is no place for him (the African) in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor.”

There is little new in this mythology. Every part of Africa which has been subject to white conquest has, at one time or another, and in one guise or another, suffered from it, even in its virulent form of the slavery that obtained in Africa up to the nineteenth century. This mitigating feature in the gloom of those far-off days was the shaft of light sunk by Christian missions, a shaft of light to which we owe our initial enlightenment. With successive governments of the time doing little or nothing to ameliorate the harrowing suffering of the black man at the hands of slave-drivers, men like Dr. David Livingstone and Dr. John Philip and other illustrious men of God stood for social justice in the face of overwhelming odds. It is worth nothing that the names I have referred to are till anathema to some South Africans. Hence the ghost of slavery lingers on to this day in the form of forced labor that goes on in what are called farm prisons. But that tradition of Livingstone and Philip lives on, perpetuated by a few of their line. It is fair to say that even in present-day conditions, Christian missions have been in the vanguard of initiating social services provided for us. Our progress in this field has been in spite of, and not mainly because of the government. In this the Church in South Africa—though belatedly seems to be awakening to a broader mission of the Church in its ministry among us. It is beginning to take seriously the words of its Founder who said, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” This is a call to the Church in South Africa to help in the all-round development of man in the present, and not only in hereafter. In this regard, the people of South Africa, especially those who claim to be Christians, would be well advised to take heed of the conference decisions of the World Council of Churches held at Cottesloe, Johannesburg, in 1960, which gave a clear lead on the mission of the Church in our day. It left no room for doubt about the relevancy of the Christian message in the present issues that confront mankind. I note with gratitude this broader outlook of the World Council of Churches. It has a great meaning and significance for us in Africa.

There is nothing new in Africa’s apartheid ideas, but South Africa is unique in this: the ideas not only survive in our modern age, but are stubbornly defended, extended, and bolstered up by legislation at the time when in the major part of the world they are now largely historical and are either being shamefacedly hidden behind concealing formulations or are being steadily scrapped. These ideas survive in South Africa because those who sponsor them profit from them. They provide moral whitewash for the conditions which exist in the country: for the fact that the country is ruled exclusively by a white electorate which is a privileged minority; for the fact that 87% of the land and all the best agricultural land within reach of town, market, and railways is reserved for white ownership and occupation and now through the recent Group Areas legislation non-Whites are losing more land to white greed; for the fact that all skilled and highly paid that jobs are for whites only; for the fact that all universities of any academic merit are an exclusive preserve of Whites; for the fact the education of every white child costs about 64 a year while that of an African child costs about 9 a year and that of an Indian child cost about 20 a year; for the fact that white education for the non-white children is scarce and inadequate; and for the fact that almost one million Africans a year are arrested and goaled or fined for breaches of innumerable pass and permit laws which do not apply to Whites.

I could carry on in this strain and talk on every facet of South African life form the cradle to the grave; but these facts today are becoming known to all the World. A fierce spotlight of world attention has been thrown on them. Try as our government’s ad its apologists will, with honeyed words about “separate developments” and eventual independence in so-called Bantu homelands, nothing can conceal the reality of South African conditions. I, as a Christian, have always felt that there is one thing above all about apartheid, or separate development, that is unforgivable: it seems utterly indifferent to the suffering of individual persons who lose their land, there homes, their jobs, in the pursuit of what is surely the most terrible dream in the world. This terrible dream is not held onto by a crackpot group on the fringe of society or by Ku Klux Klansmen, of whom we have a sprinkling. It is the deliberate policy of a government, supported actively by a large part of the white population and tolerated passively by an overwhelming white majority, but now fortunately rejected by an encouraging white minority who have thrown their lot with non-Whites who are overwhelmingly opposed to so-called separate developments.

This it is that the golden age of Africa’s independence is also the dark age of South Africa’s decline and retrogression, brought about by men who, when revolutionary changes that entrenched fundamental human rights were taking place in Europe, were closed in on the tip of South Africa—and so missed the wind of progressive change.

In the wake of that decline and retrogression, bitterness between men grows to alarming heights; the economy declines as confidence ebbs away; unemployment rises; government becomes increasingly dictatorial and intolerant of constitutional and legal procedures, increasingly violent, and suppressive; there is a constant drive for more policemen, more soldiers, more armaments, banishments without trial, and penal whippings. All the trappings of medieval backwardness and cruelty come to the fore. Education is being reduced to an instrument of subtle indoctrination. Slanted and biased reporting in the organs of public information, a creeping censorship, book banning, and blacklisting—all these spread their shadows over the land. This is South Africa today, n the age of Africa’s greatness.

But beneath the surface there is a spirit of defiance. The people of South Africa have never been a docile lot least all the Africa people. We have a long tradition of struggle for our national rights, reaching back to the very beginnings of white settlement and conquest 300 years ago. Our history is one of opposition to domination, of protest and refusal to submit to tyranny. Consider some of our great names: the great warrior and nation-builder Shaka, who welded tribes together into the Zulu nation from which I spring; Moshoeshoe, the statesman and nation-builder who fathered the Basuto nation and placed Basutoland beyond the reach of the claws of the South African Whites; Hintsa of the Xhosas, who chose death rather than surrender his territory to white invaders. All these and other royal names, as well as other great chieftains, resisted manfully white intrusion. Consider also the sturdiness of the stock that nurtured the foregoing great names. I refer to our forbears, who in trekking from the north to the southernmost tip of Africa centuries ago braved rivers that are perennially swollen hacked their way through treacherous jungle and forest survived the plagues of the then-untamed lethal diseases of a multifarious nature that abounded in Equatorial Africa, and wrested themselves from the gaping mouths of the beasts of prey. They endured it all. They settled in these parts of Africa to build a future worthwhile for us, their offspring. While the social and political conditions have changed and the problems we face are different, we too—their progeny—find ourselves facing a situation where we have to struggle for our very survival as human beings. Although methods of struggle may differ from time to time, the universal human strivings for liberty remain unchanged. We, in our situation, have chosen the path of non-violence of our own volition. Along this path we have organized many heroic campaigns. All the strength of progressive leadership in South Africa, all my life and strength, had been given to the pursuance of this method in an attempt to avert disaster in the interests of South Africa, and we have bravely paid the penalties for it.

It may well be that South Africa’s social system is a monument to racialism and race oppression, but its people are the living testimony to the unconquerable spirit of mankind. Down the years, against seemingly overwhelming odds, they have sought the goal of fuller life and liberty, striving with incredible determination and fortitude for the right to live as men—free men. In this our country is not unique. Your recent and inspiring history, when the Axis powers overran most European states, is testimony of this unconquerable spirit of mankind. People of Europe formed resistance movements that finally helped to break the power of the combination of Nazism and fascism with their creed of race arrogance and herrenvolk mentality.

Every people have, at on time or another in their history, been plunged into such struggle. But generally the passing of time has seen the barriers of freedom going down, one by one. Not so South Africa. Here the barriers do not go down, one by one. Each step we take forward, every achievement we chalk up, is cancelled out by the raising of new higher barriers to our advance. The color bars do not get weaker; they get stronger. The bitterness of the struggle mounts as liberty comes step by step closer to the freedom fighter’s grasp. All too often the protests and demonstrations of our people have been beaten back by force; but they have never been silenced.

Through all this cruel treatment in the name of law and order our people, with a few exceptions, have remained non-violent. If today this peace award is given to South Africa through a black man it is not because we in South Africa have won our fight for peace and human brotherhood. Far from it. Perhaps stand farther from victory than any other people in Africa. But nothing which we have suffered at the hands of the government had turned us from our chosen path of disciplined resistance. It is for this, I believe that this award is given.

How easy it would have been in South Africa for the natural feelings of resentment at white domination to have been turned into feelings of hatred and a desire for revenge against the white community. Here, where every day in every aspect of life every non-White comes up against the ubiquitous sign “Europeans Only”, and the equally ubiquitous policeman to enforce it—here it could well be expected that a racialism equal to that of their oppressors would flourish to counter the white arrogance towards Blacks. That it has not done so is no accident. It is because deliberately and advisedly, African leadership for the past fifty years, with the inspiration of the African National Congress, which I had the honor to lead for the last decade or so until it was banned, had set itself steadfastly against racial vaingloriousness. We know that in so doing we passed up opportunities for an easy demagogic appeal to the natural passions of a people denied freedom and liberty; we discarded the chance of an easy and expedient emotional appeal. Our vision has always been that of a non-racial, democratic South Africa which upholds the rights if all who live in our country to remain there as full citizens with equal rights and responsibilities with all others. For the consummation of this ideal we have labored unflinchingly. We shall continue to labor unflinchingly.

It is this vision which prompted the African National Congress to invite members of other racial groups who believe with us in the brotherhood of man and in the freedom of all people to join with us in establishing a non-racial, democratic South Africa. Thus the African National Congress in its day brought about the Congress Alliance and welcomed the emergence of the Liberal Party and Progressive Party, who to an encouraging measure support these ideals.

The true patriots of South Africa, for whom I speak, will be satisfied with nothing less than the fullest democratic rights. In government we will not be satisfied with anything less than direct individual adult suffrage and the right to stand for and be elected, to all organs of government. In economic matters we will be satisfied with nothing less than equality of opportunity in every sphere and the enjoyment by all those heritages which form the resources of the country which form the resources of the country which up to now have been appropriated on a racial “Whites only” basis. In culture we will be satisfied with nothing less than the opening of all doors of learning to non-segregatory institutions on the sole criterion of ability. In the social sphere we will be satisfied with nothing less than the abolition of all racial bars. We do not demand these things for people of African descent alone: we demand them for all South Africans, white and black. On these principles we are uncompromising. To compromise would be an expediency that is most treacherous to democracy, for in turn of events the sweets of economic, political, and social privileges that are a monopoly of only one section of a community turn sour, even in the mouths of those who eat them. Thus apartheid in practice is proving to be a monster created by Frankenstein. That is the tragedy of the South African scene.

Many spurious slogans have been invented in our country in an effort to redeem uneasy race relations—“trusteeship”, “separate development”, “race federation”, and elsewhere “partnership.” These are efforts to side-track us from the democratic road and men delaying tactics that fool no one but the unwary. No euphemistic naming will ever hide their hideous nature. We reject these policies because they do not measure up to the best mankind has striven for throughout the ages; they do great offence to man’s sublime aspirations that have remained true in a sea of flux and change down the ages, aspirations of which the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is a culmination. This is what we stand for. This is what we fight for.

In their fight for lasting values, there are many things that have sustained the spirit if the freedom-loving people of South Africa and those in the yet-unredeemed parts of Africa where the white man claims resolutely proprietary rights over democracy…a universal heritage. High amongst them—the things that have sustained us—stand the magnificent support of the progressive people and governments throughout the world, amongst whom number the people and government of the country of which I am today guest; our brothers in Africa, especially in the independent African stats; organizations who share the outlook we embrace in countries scattered right across the face of the globe; the United Nations jointly and some of its member-nation singly. In their defense of peace in the world through actively upholding the quality of man, all these groups have reinforced our undying faith in the unassailable rightness and justness of our cause. To all of them I say: Alone we would have been weak; our heartfelt appreciation of your acts of support of us we cannot adequately express, nor can we ever forget, now or in the future when victory is behind us and South Africa’s freedom rests in the hands of all her people.

We South Africans, however, equally understand that much as others might do for us, our freedom cannot come to us as a gift from abroad. Our freedom we must make ourselves. All honest freedom-loving people have dedicated themselves to that task. What we need is the courage that rises with danger.

Whatever may be the future of our freedom efforts, our cause is the cause of the liberation of people who are denied freedom. Only on this basis can the peace of Africa and the world be firmly established. It is encouraging and elating to remind you that despite her humiliation and torment at the hands of white rule, the spirit of Africa in quest for freedom has been, generally, for peaceful means to the utmost.

If I have dwelt at length on my country’s race problem it is not as though other countries on our continent do not labor under these problems but because it is here in the Republic of South Africa that the race problem is most acute. Perhaps in no other country on the continent is white supremacy asserted with greater vigor and determination and a sense of righteousness. This places the opponents of apartheid in the front rank of those who fight white domination.

In bringing my address to a close let me invite Africa to cast her eyes beyond the past and to some extent the present with their woes and tribulations, trial and failures, and some successes, and see herself an emerging continent, bursting to freedom through the shell of centuries of serfdom. This is Africa’s age-the dawn of her fulfillment yes, the moment when she must grapple with destiny to reach the summits of sublimity saying “Ours was a fight for noble values and worthy ends, and not for lands and the enslavement of man.”

Africa is a vital subject matter in the world of today, a focal point of world interest and concern. Could it not be that history has delayed her rebirth for a purpose? The situation confronts her with inescapable challenges, but more importantly with opportunities for service to her shame, if not her doom. How she sees her destiny is a more vital and rewarding quest than bemoaning her with its past humiliations and sufferings.

This address could do no more than pose some questions and leave it to the African leaders and peoples to provide satisfying answers and responses by their concern for higher values and by their noble actions that could be

Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing, o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Still licking the scars of past wrongs perpetuated on her, could she not be magnanimous and practice no revenge? Her hand of friendship scornfully rejected, her pleas for justice and fair play spurned should she not nonetheless seek to turn enmity into amity? Though robbed of her lands, her independence, and opportunities this, oddly enough, often in the name of civilization and even Christianity—should she not see her destiny as being that of making a distinctive contribution to human progress and human relationships with a peculiar new African flavor enriched by the diversity human achievement an edifice that would be one of the finest tributes to the genius of man?

She should see this hour of her fulfillment as a challenge to her to labor on until she is purged of racial domination, and as an opportunity of reassuring the world that her national aspiration lies, not in overthrowing white domination to replace it by a black caste, but in building a non-racial democracy that shall be a monumental brotherhood, a “brotherly community” with none discriminated against on grounds of race or color.

What of the many pressing and complex political, economic, and cultural problems attendant upon the early years of a newly independent state? These, and others which are the legacy of colonial days, will tax to the limit the statesmanship, ingenuity, altruism, and steadfastness of African leadership and its unbending avowal to democratic tenets in statecraft. To us all, free or not free, the call of the hour is to redeem the name and honor of Mother Africa.

In a strife-torn world, tottering on the brink of complete destruction by man-made nuclear weapons, a free and independent Africa is in the making, in answer to the injunction and challenge of history: “Arise and shine, for they light is come.” Acting in concert with other nations, she is man’s last hope for a mediator between the East and West, and is qualified to demand of the great powers to “turn the swords into ploughshares” because two-thirds of mankind is hungry and illiterate; to engage human energy, human skill, and human talent in the service of peace, for the alternative is unthinkable –war, destruction, and desolation; and to build a world community which will stand as a lasting monument to the millions of men and women to such devoted and distinguished world citizens and fighters forpeace as the late Dag Hammarskjold, who have given their lives that we may live in happiness and peace.

Africa’s qualification for this noble task is incontestable, for her own fight has never been and is not now a fight for conquest of land, for accumulation of wealth, or domination of peoples, but for the recognition and preservation of the rights of man and the establishment of a truly free world for a free people.