*** LEGENDS ***
by Yussuf J. Simmonds
“They fought so that Black people could get Freedom, Justice and Equality”
The recent announcement that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will be leaving public life and the recent celebration of former President Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday, signal long-overdue rest for two titans of the struggle against apartheid for freedom and dignity for Black people–a struggle that the world has come to know. In their honor, the Sentinel has decided to re-run this article showcasing those noble statesmen from South Africa who each received the Nobel Prize because they fought “the good fight.”
Chief Albert J. Luthuli, Archbishop Tutu and President Mandela are names that belong to an exclusive club of Nobel Peace Prize winners, whose journeys through life have been recorded as history so that the generations who follow their paths will be guided by the instrumentality of their noble deeds. The signs of their experiences still show on the faces of the latter two, who still walk among us.
Archbishop Tutu radiates an aura of peace, joy and tranquility that few men can emulate or emanate. Saying that he looks forward to reading, writing, praying and just thinking, he laid out his plan to spend the rest of his natural life with his family at a recent news conference, and further proclaimed that he does not foresee any future interviews, speeches, plane-hopping or press conferences.
Former President Mandela, who radiates a “presence” like few other men, has already left public life. He is seldom seen in public and when he does, it is usually for a solemn occasion (like his recent attendance to his granddaughter’s funeral) or a bigger-than-life, lavish celebration (like his visit to the stadium for the World Soccer Games–South Africa’s first hosting).
It is no accident that 3 of the 5 Black noblemen who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize are South Africans. The harshness and the intensity of their suffering, and the suffering of their people have caused the world to stop and wonder about the enormities and the burdens they have endured for so long, by so few, that the recorders of history did not deem it necessary to have any lasting memory for the names of the evil-doers, the oppressors, and the nameless and shameless perpetrators of white supremacy–just the systems: apartheid, racism, segregation, discrimination and jim crow–and it still exists–in South Africa and in America.
It must be noted here that none of the Black Nobel Peace Prize “winners” had actually “won” the peace that they were being serenaded for. They were proponents of peace and were heralded for their efforts; but Black people still face violence in their homeland, despite their tremendouds struggle and sacrifice–there and here.
Chief Albert J. Luthuli (1898–1967)
Albert J. Luthuli
Luthuli, The Chief
Chief Luthuli was the leader of 10 million Black Africans, and a proponent of non-violence as a means to achieve civil rights for his people. He was the first African to receive the Nobel Peace Prize when it was awarded to him in 1961. He was a man of noble ancestry, charitable and had a deep intolerance for hatred and inequality, wherever hatred reared its ugly head among men. Not only was he a tribal chief, he was also a teacher, a religious leader and the President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1952 to 1967 in South Africa.
His leadership of the ANC barely survived when the repressive government forces massacred a group of peaceful protesters at Sharpsville in 1960 and he called for national mourning. (Here, he clashed with a young Nelson Mandela, who eventually deferred, respect for Luthuli’s elder status and allowed him to remain head of the ANC). Because of the country’s draconian laws, he was not allowed to leave the country until 1961, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (The prize had been awarded in 1960).
During Luthuli’s acceptance address he said, “This is the most important occasion, not only in my life, but in that of my dear wife, Nokukhanya, who shares with me this honor. For her encouragement, not just mere encouragement, but active support, made me at times fear that she herself might end in jail one day……. Indeed the challenge is for us to ensure the world from self-destruction. In our contribution to peace, we are resolved to end such evils as oppression, white supremacy and race discrimination, all of which are incompatible with world peace and security. There is indeed a threat to peace.”
Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu (1931–)
Desmond M. Tutu
Tutu, The Archbishop
When Archbishop Tutu’s anti-apartheid activities in South Africa were compared with Dr. King’s work in the United States, he said, “There is a difference. King was fighting to get America to obey the law (the Constitutional guarantee that all men are created equal). In South Africa, the White government was obeying the law–apartheid was the law–I was trying to get them to change the law.”
Archbishop Tutu’s passion as a crusader against apartheid was fueled by his first hand knowledge and experience at the hands of White South Africa’s brutal history and oppression against its non-White citizens for centuries. He grew up in an atmosphere of tolerance and sympathy, and that served him well in his professional capacity as an activist-clergyman. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and in his acceptance speech, he expressed the pain and sufferings of his Black countrymen this way, “Once a Zambian and a South African were talking. The Zambian boasted about their Minister of Naval Affairs. The South African asked, ‘But you have no navy, no access to the sea. How then can you have a Minister of Naval Affairs?’ The Zambian retorted, ‘Well, in South Africa you have a Minister of Justice, don’t you?’ ……. There is no peace in Southern Africa. There is no peace because there is no justice. There can be no real peace and security until there be first justice enjoyed by all the inhabitants of that beautiful land.”
[President] Nelson R. Mandela (1918–)
Nelson R. Mandela
Mandela, The Statesman
No statesman in the world “stands as tall” as Nelson Mandela; he embodies genuine royalty, grace, nobility and human character all wrapped into one. After almost three decades of a prison sentence, that started off as a (natural) life sentence, he was released and re-entered the world stage becoming the first truly elected president of South Africa.
His interest in politics came early in life from the elders of his Xhosa tribe as they described how freely they lived before the Whites came. Trained as a lawyer, he became an official in the ANC seeking to reverse the system of apartheid through non-violent means. But the forces of oppression were so violent that after the Sharpsville Massacre in 1960, he formed Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), as an armed wing of the struggle. (It was his clash with Chief Luthuli that facilitated this move, outside the general membership of the ANC).
Mandela’s activities earned him the title, “the Black Pimpernel,” the white world’s foremost terrorist. After he was arrested, tried and convicted at the famous Rivonia trial, he left the world stage with this memorable statement: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
(How many of the world’s so-called leaders and proponents of free and democratic societies/countries would have–in the past or in the present–stood up, or will stand up this way in defense of what they profess to believe in?) Mandela has lived to see his ideal started, though not completely fulfilled, but just started. On becoming South Africa’s president, he said, “Today is a day like no other before it.” However, though the masses of Black people are now able to vote, much of their wretched conditions have not changed, and it will not change overnight. Centuries of apartheid cannot be erased in 13 years (2007), merely by winning the right to vote.
Mandela’s long walk to freedom can partly be glimpsed from these excerpts from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1993, “Together, we join two distinguished South Africans, the late Chief Albert Luthuli and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to whose seminal contributions to the peaceful struggle against the evil system of apartheid, you paid well-deserved tribute by awarding them the Nobel Peace Prize.
“It will not be presumptuous of us if we also add, among our predecessors, the name of another outstanding Nobel Peace Prize winner, the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“He, too, grappled with and died in the effort to make a contribution to the just solution of the same great issues of the day which we have had to face as South Africans.
“Thus shall we live, because we will have created a society which recognizes that all people are born equal, with each entitled in equal measure to life, liberty, prosperity, human rights and good governance.”
THE UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS states, “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his [or her] country.”