Albert John Luthuli was born in 1898 at the Solusi Mission in Matebeleland where his father, an interpreter between the missionaries in Natal and the Zulus, had been asked by the missionaries to help establish a church. His father died shortly after Albert Luthuli was born.
At the age of ten, the young boy and his mother returned to his ancestral home, Groutville - a mission station in Natal. He lived out his remaining childhood with his uncle, Martin Luthuli, who was the then-Chief of the Christian Zulus who lived in the Umvoti Mission Reserve around Groutville.
As a young man, having completed a teaching course at Edendale, Luthuli took the post of principal at a local primary school. Shortly afterwards, a government bursary enabled him to further his education at Adam's College, where he completed the higher teachers' training course. Luthuli subsequently accepted a teaching post at the college and continued his career as an educator for a further 15 years.
During this time, Luthuli was vocal in his strong belief that all South Africans should be afforded access to equal education. In 1928, he was appointed secretary of the African Teacher's Association and, in 1933, he was elected its president.
A man of deep faith, Luthuli was confirmed in the Methodist Church and became a lay preacher. His political approach was based on his Christian values and Biblical principles. Other positions included his election as chairperson of the South African Board of the Congregationalist Church of America, president of the Natal Mission Conference and executive member of the Christian Council of South Africa.
Although not a hereditary chief, the election of the chief of the Christian Zulus was based on a democratic system and, after much persistence from the tribal elders to return to his tribe to lead them, Luthuli eventually left his profession to become chief of the tribe.
From the outset of his term of office as chief, Luthuli encountered many unjust political, social and economic realities. The rights of his people were virtually non-existent and they were landless, two reasons which compelled him to join the struggle for equality.Chief Luthuli became a member of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1945 and in 1951 was appointed Provincial President of the ANC in Natal. As a chief though, he was not permitted to participate in active politics. Although he fought hard to resist this ban, the government finally gave him an ultimatum to either continue his chieftainship or remain within the ANC. He chose the latter. In 1952, his title of chief was revoked. In the same year, he was elected President-General of the ANC.
Luthuli's sincerity, loyalty and commitment to African freedom and development earned him the respect of men of goodwill in South Africa and throughout the world. His stance, however, also incited hatred, anger and fear in the authorities. In 1952, Luthuli was banned by the government and confined to the Groutville area for two years. This ban was renewed in 1954 and again in 1959 when a further banning period of five years was passed. This ban also prohibited him from publishing any written material.
Between bans, Luthuli travelled to Cape Town where he was arrested for publicly burning his pass. He was subsequently found guilty, fined and given a jail sentence which was suspended due to ill health. He returned to isolation in Groutville.
Besides being confined for most of his ANC leadership period, in 1956 Luthuli and other liberation movement leaders were arrested and charged with high treason. The trial began in January 1957 and concluded on 29 March 1961, with the court finding that all those accused were not guilty.
In December 1961, his ban was temporarily lifted in order for Luthuli and his wife, Nokukhanya, to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo, Norway. On his return, a fourth ban was issued for a further period of four years. Luthuli continued with his political work until the last days of his life. He passed away on 21 July 1967.