A Women’s Month tribute to Nokukhanya (MaBhengu) Luthuli (1904 – 1996)

Posted on August 28, 2018

During Women’s Month, the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership (ALCRL) pays special tribute to Mama Nokukhanya (MaBhengu) Luthuli for her dedication to Chief Luthuli, her children, and her community.
 
As the saying goes, “Behind every great man, is a great woman”. Prof Derick de Jongh, Director of the ALCRL said that, “I believe, in the case of Chief Luthuli, you would find in Mama Nokukhanya someone who epitomised what it means to be a true caretaker. She did not only take care of her husband and their family, but also supported Chief Luthuli in his dreams and ideology to bring about a non-racial, peaceful and inclusive South Africa for all. She never forgot the importance of grounding oneself in the basics of what society needs, but also, at a higher level, having a clear vision of the future we need.”
 
Mama Nokukhanya was an outstanding farmer and grew her own vegetables, sugar cane and fruits. She supplemented her family’s income through her farming activities during the time that Albert Luthuli became Chief of Groutville and in later years, when political activities demanded much of his time. She led her community into each working day by waking up before anyone else – “There goes MaBhengu. The fields are calling us”, the other farmers of Groutville would say. She stayed loyal to Chief Albert Luthuli and to his dreams for South Africa, even after his death in 1967.
 
She remained active and continued to take an interest in her community by supervising the farming activities, settling disputes and visiting relatives. She never traded on Chief Luthuli’s name and also never asked for any special treatment. She believed in serving her community and was actively involved in creating a better future for all. “As a woman, I believe she resembled, in many respects, what we would call a truly responsible leader and we are extremely fortunate to carry the Luthuli name, preserving and advancing the legacy of her husband, Chief Albert Luthuli. Most importantly, during Women’s Month, we celebrate her womanhood and her legacy of being known as the mother of our nation,” said Carto Abrams-Swarts, Operations Manager at ALCRL.
 
South African freedom fighter, activist, actress, story teller, poet, playwright, director and author Gcina Mhlophe, performed “Praise to our mothers” in 1989 for Mama Nokukhanya. She described her as a leader in the women’s part of the struggle for liberation under the apartheid regime and reminded us that Mama Nokukhanya has been called “the mother of the nation”.

Praise to Our Mothers

by Gcina Mhlophe

If the moon were to shine tonight
To light up my face and show off my proud form
With beads around my neck and shells in my hair
And soft easy flowing dress with the colours of Africa

If I were to stand on top of a hill
And raise my voice in praise
Of the women of my country
Who have worked throughout their lives
Not for themselves, but for the very life of all Africans
Who would I sing my praises to?
I could quote all the names
Yes, but where do I begin?

Do I begin with the ones
Who gave their lives
So that we others may live a better life
The Lilian Ngoyis, the Victoria Mxenges
The Ruth Firsts
Or the ones who have lost their men
To Robben Island and their children to exile
But carried on fighting
The MaMotsoaledis, the MaSisulus
The Winnie Mandelas?

Or maybe I would sing praises to
The ones who have had the resilience
And cunning of a desert cobra
Priscilla Jana, Fatima Meer, Beauty Mkhize
Or the ones who turned deserts into green vegetable gardens
From which our people can eat
Mamphela Ramphele, Ellen Kuzwayo

Or would the names of the women
Who marched, suffered solitary confinement
and house arrests
Helen Joseph, Amina Cachalia, Sonya Bunting, Dorothy Nyembe,
Thoko Mngoma, Florence Matomela, Berta Mkhize,
How many more names come to mind
As I remember the Defiance Campaign
The fights against Beer Halls that suck the strength of our men
Building of alternative schools away from Bantu Education
And the fight against pass laws.

Maybe, maybe I would choose a name
Just one special name that spells out light
That of Mama Nokukhanya Luthuli
Maybe if I were to call out her name
From the top of the hill
While the moon is shining bright;
No—Ku—Kha—nya!
NO—KU—KHA—NYA!!!
Maybe my voice would be carried by the wind
To reach all the other women
Whose names are not often mentioned
The ones who sell oranges and potatoes
So their children can eat and learn
The ones who scrub floors and polish executive desktops
In towering office blocks
While the city sleeps
The ones who work in overcrowded hospitals
Saving lives, cleaning bullet wounds and delivering new babies
And the ones who have given up
Their places of comfort and the protection of their skin colour
Marian Sparg, Sheena Duncan,
Barbara Hogan, Jenny Schreiner.
And what of the women who are stranded in their homelands
With a baby in the belly and a baby on the back
While their men are sweating in the bowels of the earth?

May the lives of all these women
Be celebrated and made to shine
When I cry out Mama Nokukhanya’s name
NO—KU—KHA—NYA!!!
And we who are young, salute our mothers
Who have given us
The heritage of their Queendom!!!

- Author Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership

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