Bittersweet moment for family after inquest into Luthuli’s death reopened

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Inkosi Albert Luthuli.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Inkosi Albert Luthuli.

Published May 15, 2024


The reopening of the inquest into the death of Struggle stalwart and former ANC president Chief Albert Luthuli will lay bare the truth about his death but will not give his family justice.

This is the view of the Luthuli family after the Department of Justice and Correctional Services announced on Monday that it was reopening the inquest into the deaths of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient and two other icons.

The Luthuli family believe he was assassinated and the delay in reopening the inquest meant those responsible would not be held to account.

The stalwart’s family said they had been calling for the inquest for close to 30 years because they never believed he was struck by a train, as claimed by the apartheid government, which held its own inquest into his death. Luthuli died on July 21, 1967.

The family was acting on recommendations from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to re-open inquests into the deaths of Chief Luthuli, Mlungisi Griffiths Mxenge and Booi Mantyi.

The department said the inquest held by the apartheid regime found the cause of Luthuli’s death was due to a fractured skull and no one was found culpable.

The original inquest had not considered critical facts, including mathematical and scientific evidence, which made it highly unlikely that Luthuli was hit by a train, the department said.

Mxenge also lost his life under mysterious circumstances. His body, bearing 45 lacerations, was discovered on a sports field in Umlazi. An inquest in 1983 failed to identify the perpetrators, despite clear signs of foul play.

According to the statement, Mantyi was killed in an alleged altercation with members of the South African Police Force on June 16, 1985 in the Northern Cape.

Speaking to The Mercury on Tuesday, Luthuli’s grandson Mthunzi Luthuli said the inquest would reveal the truth as the family had never believed Luthuli was hit by a train.

Detailing the family’s suspicion, Mthunzi said at the time that Luthuli died, the family was told many things they knew were a lie and they were convinced he had been assassinated.

He said one of the signs that confirmed their suspicions was the nature of his injuries.

“He had a deep injury to his head and minor bruises on his body. You do not suffer such injuries if you have been run over by a train. The blood was not on the railway tracks but was on the side where passengers stand, so it was clear he had been hit by someone while he was waiting for the train to pass.”

The apartheid government claimed that Luthuli was elderly, had hearing problems and was losing his eyesight, Mthunzi said. “But the family and the community knew that was a lie because he was a preacher at church and still read the Bible.”

Mthunzi said the family believed one of the reasons Luthuli was assassinated was because of the visit he received at his home from then-US senator Robert Kennedy.

“In the 1960s my grandfather was always under some kind of ban by the apartheid government. It was trials, it was house arrest. Even when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, he could not collect it as he was frustrated by the apartheid government ... it took a year for him to finally get his award.

“We believe the visit by the US senator Robert Kennedy in June 1966 was one of the triggers for the apartheid government to finally decide to kill my grandfather.

“Kennedy was visiting the country and had asked to see my grandfather.

The apartheid government tried to dissuade him but they could not stop him because he was an American senator.

“He wanted to hear the voices of the black people and he demanded to meet my grandfather. He got into a helicopter and flew to Groutville where my grandfather had essentially been confined.

The meeting made international headlines. A year after the Kennedy visit, my grandfather was assassinated.”

Mthunzi said the family was disappointed it took so long for the inquest to be reopened.

“We have been fighting for this for close to 27 years since the days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“This is a bittersweet moment for us because we will know the truth but the people who are responsible are no longer around, so justice delayed is justice denied. We are also concerned about why the ANC government has taken so long to deal with the matter,” he said.

The Mercury

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