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The story of Nokukhanya Luthuli

The old woman is still strong. Every day she wakes up early. And she walks down to the sugar cane fields on her farm.

She visits the fields for many hours. Sugar cane is the onIy way to make money in the place where she lives.

Sometimes the old woman does not go to the fields. She walks to a small graveyard near her house. She cleans away the grass and the weeds that grow over the grave.

She says a prayer for the man who is buried there. And then she dreams of another time. A time when life was not so lonely – when her husband, Chief Albert Luthuli, was still alive.


Nokukhanya LuthuIi was born In 1904. Her home was a place in Natal called Umngeni Mission Station. Her grandfather was Chief Dlokolo Bhengu. He was the leader of the people of Umngeni.

Her father was a farmer. She learned how to work in the fields from an early age.

“My father made us work very hard,” she remembers. “We woke up every morning at half past four. We took the cattle out into the fields. Then we ran to school. We had no time for break­fast.

“After school we had more work to do. We had to clean the yard and fetch water from the river. The Umngeni river was a mile away.”

When Nokukhanya was nine years old, her mother died. She was in standard two.

Nokukhanya missed her mother. But she worked hard at school. She finished standard seven. Black people in Natal couId not go further at school in those days.

Nokukhanya decided to become a teacher. She went to Adams College to study teaching. But at Adams College, Nokukhanya did not have an easy time.

Her father’s new wife did not want her to study further. She stopped paying for Nokukhanya’s studies at Adams.

“But I very much wanted to be a teacher,” says Mrs LuthuIi. “So stayed at Adams.

“Eight of us had no money for fees. We did work for the school. After school we cut the grass and washed pots. Early in the morning we helped to bake the bread. The other students were still asleep. That’s how I got my Iittle education.”

Nokukhanya did very well at Adams. One of her teachers was a man called Albert Luthuli. He did not take much notice of her in those days.


Nokukhanya finished studying. But the college did not want her to go. They asked her to stay. Nokukhanya agreed and became a teacher at Adams.

“I was not interested in men,” says Mrs Luthuli. “But then I met this young teacher from Groutville. After eight months I knew that I wanted to share my life with this man.”

In 1927 Nokukhanya Bhengu and Albert Luthuli got married. Albert asked Nokukhanya to live with his mother at his home in Groutville in Natal. Albert’s mother was old and poor. She sold potatoes to pay for Albert’s school fees. Now Albert wanted his mother to rest.

Life at Groutville was lonely from the beginning. For eight years Nokukhanya lived at Groutville while Albert Luthuli taught at Adams. They only saw each other on weekends and in the school holidays.

Then one day the people of Grout­ville called for Albert Luthuli. They said they wanted a new chief. And they knew who they wanted. They wanted Albert LuthuIi.

Albert did not want to be a chief. He loved teaching – and a teacher’s salary was much better than a chief’s salary.

But Albert LuthuIi knew h is people needed him. And he wanted to live with his wife and famiIy. And so the teacher agreed to become a chief.


Chief Albert Luthuli was a strong leader. He saw that his people were poor. They had very little land and Groutville was crowded. Every day the children suffered from hunger. The Chief decided to fight for the rights of his people.

He began by fiqhtinq for the rights of the farmers of Groutville – and all the black farmers of Natal. Under the Chief the farmers won many rights.

Sugar factories did not want to buy all the cane from the farmers. But under the Chief, the farmers could sell all their cane. The farmers also got better prices. And together they learned to become better farmers. Today the black farmers of Natal still remember the Chief for his fight.

But the Chief saw that people were suffering all over South Africa. So he decided to join the ANC – the organi­zation that was fighting for the rights of all people in South Africa.

The people saw that the Chief was a strong leader. In 1951 the ANC in Natal chose him to be president. And in 1953 he was chosen as president general – the leader of the ANC all over South Africa.

The people found a new leader. But for Mrs Luthuli the lonely times came back again. The Chief travelled to meetings all over the country. He had much work to do.

But Nokukhanya never complained. She did not want the Chief to stop his work. The Chief’s fight was her fight. She never forgot that.


Nokukhanya remembers when the police came to arrest the Chief for the first time. “They came at four o’clock in the morning,” says Mrs Luthuli. “They knock so loud. Before you wake up, you know its the police. They blocked aII the doors to the house. They all had big guns. They searched the house from top to bottom. And then they took my husband away – and a lot of his papers.”

In 1960 the government banned the ANC and the PAC – the organizations of the people. At this time the Chief spent five months in jail.

The government did not Iike the Chief. But the world knew about the Chief’s brave fight for his people. In 1960 the government of Norway gave him a great prize for his bravery – the Nobel Peace prize.

In 1964 he was banned for five years. He could not go to meetings and he could not leave his home in Grout­ville.

The people lost their leader. But life at Groutville was not so lonely any more. The Chief was home again.


Everyday Nokukhanya and her husband went to the fields together. Friends came to visit. And they talked about many things until late into the night.

The Chief always told people that Nokukhanya was his greatest friend and helper. He always spoke to her about important things. He respected the things she said.

But Nokukhanya did not have her husband to herself for long. Albert Luthuli’s death came suddenly.

They found his body on the railway line. They said a train hit him. Many people could not believe that the Chief was killed by a train. They could not believe their leader was dead.

Hundreds of people came to the Chief’s funeral at Groutville. And after they left, Nokukhanya Luthuli was alone again.


But the old woman, was strong. She stayed at Groutville with her children and carried on with the Chief’s work on the farm.

Today Mrs Luthuli still lives with her daughter at Groutville. She is still struggling to make a living from sugar cane – like the Chief did for most of his life.

The people of Groutville own the land they live on. But the government says Groutville is a “black spot”. They say the people of Groutville cannot own land in South Africa. They have tried many times to move the people of Groutville.

But Mrs Luthuli is a fighter – just like the Chief. “My husband built part of this house,” she says. “His body lies under the ground not far from here. I am old and my end is near. I will not die in a strange place. I will never leave this place.”

Mrs Luthuli will not leave her husband behind. She will not leave his side. She hasn’t changed!


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