Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela and South Africa's Turn to Armed Struggle

November 16, 2016 -
12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Robert Vinson

Albert Luthuli, the president of the African National Congress (ANC) and Africa's first Nobel Peace Prize winner, was Nelson Mandela before Nelson Mandela, renowned for his personal charisma, moral authority, and stirring vision of racial reconciliation and a non-racial, democratic South African rainbow nation. On December 16, 1961, as Luthuli returned to South Africa from Oslo, Norway, where he had just accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, the ANC's new armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) initiated sabotage attacks in several South African cities. The ANC's turn to armed struggle raised several questions: Did Luthuli, who had so eloquently defended Ghandian non-violent principles in Oslo, now advocate violence, support MK and the turn to armed struggle? Or did younger, more militant ANC members like Mandela override Luthuli's objections to initiate a thirty year period of armed struggle ? What was Luthuli's position on armed struggle? What was the role of Mandela, himself a future Nobel Peace Prize winner, in this pivotal moment in South African history? Based on a forthcoming biography of Luthuli and a forthcoming co-authored article with Benedict Carton of George Mason University, this paper uses new archival sources to answer these questions and advance the historiography in this contentious, controversial area of South African liberationist history.

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  • Concilium on Southern Africa