Scott Couper did such a good job of the life of Chief Albert Luthuli that it is no wonder the book has garnered rave reviews, including making the long list for the prestigious Alan Paton Award for Non-Fiction.
The book tries to answer the question whether Luthuli, the Nobel Prize laureate and one-time President of Africa’s oldest liberation movement – the ANC – ever believed in violence as a means to overthrow South Africa’s racist regime. Did Luthuli, upon his return from Oslo in 1961, play an active role in the birth of the armed struggle, as represented by the wishes and objectives of the young lions who called for the establishment of Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC?
In a scholarly treatise that was submitted as part of a doctoral thesis, the writer does an elaborate amount of work to show that Luthuli did not countenance the armed movement.
Born and raised in the church, the writer says, Luthuli was bound by [his] faith not to believe in violence. The Bible, among the literature that shaped his thoughts, is still a major part of the current Luthuli generations. It, in fact, still occupies pride of place at the Luthuli Museum.
As Couper writes about Luthuli, he succeeds at painting a picture of younger comrades in the ANCYL who, when losing patience with the pacifist stance of their elders in the movement, rose to be kingmakers. Luthuli’s predecessor, James Moroka, was himself seen as a softie by the young lions who wanted the violent overthrow of apartheid in real time.
Couper pokes holes in the argument that Luthuli’s death in a train accident in 1967 was a political hit. He says the regime had come to realize that he was a harmless man who meant their nefarious ways no harm. They could not possibly have wished him dead!
“Can the Africans in South Africa achieve their aims without violence,” Luthuli is quoted saying in the Durban newspaper Daily News. “I hope so. I hope so …” he says optimistically.
This was not the language of the belligerent young guns in the ANCYL of the time who were dying for a regime change – by hook or by crook – and spoiling for a fight.
It just takes long to read – as is the nature of scholarly works – but this one we can confidently bequeath to posterity.
Bound by Faith was published in 2010 by University of Kwazulu/Natal Press.
© makatilemedia 05/2011