Luthuli's concept of civilisation

Presented by
Seminar Date
September 9, 2009
From 28 June 1959 to 27 May 1962, Luthuli wrote a "weekly" column to the Golden City Post (the Post). On the column's advent the Post proclaimed: Beginning this week, POST will publish a regular weekly column by South Africa"s leading figure in exile, Chief A. J. Luthuli. He speaks from his home in the small village of Groutville on the Natal north coast, and through POST his voice on current trends will be heard all over the country. As judged from the seventy-five submissions published by the Post, Luthuli can accurately be described as an "Absolute Idealist". The articles published in the Post document that he represented the quintessential Kholwa (Believer) who advocated the acceptance western culture and Christianity as valuable contributions to indigenous African society. Luthuli's often paternalistic and condescending missiological upbringing imbued in him that the practice of Christianity is preferable to "heathenism". Nonetheless, he did not disparage traditional society. He was a chief and in many ways upheld indigenous culture. Luthuli affirmed there to be many aspects of traditional African culture that ought to be retained. Likewise, Luthuli was not so enamoured with the west that he accepted its ways "lock, stock and barrel". On the contrary, he lamented its proclivity towards materialism (avarice) and militarism (violence). Luthuli routinely berated western democracies and white Christians for abandoning and thwarting their highest and most esteemed "civilised" ideals. Luthuli did not conceive that "civilisation" belonged to the white race. Rather, he argued civilisation to be a corporate philosophic culture to which all races ought to aspire. The fact that Africans joined at a late stage the current towards civilisation that swept the globe did not prejudice people of colour any more than those who joined the current sooner and often failed to live up to its seminal tenets. Luthuli viewed civilisation to be appropriate for all humans, a state to which all humanity is progressively moving. Luthuli's admiration and acceptance of Christianity, westernisation and civilisation did not in his mind elevate Whites above Blacks. Nor did it develop a "false consciousness" in which "self-hatred" or an "inferiority complex" developed. Luthuli believed that all humans are inherently capable and equal. The sin of Apartheid was that it prevented people of colour from joining the current towards civilisation. Worse, utilising the bantustan framework, Apartheid sought to expel people of colour from the progressive global current and dispose of them in a stifling caricature of the traditional past. Attaining an unrecoverable past would be futile, rendering its imitation an anachronism. Luthuli sought to graft the best of African culture with western culture, thus making a modern synthesis that was neither "western" nor "African".
PDF icon Couper2009.pdf272.97 KB