Albert Lutuli’s Acceptance Speech, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1961*
Your Majesty, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, here present!
On an occasion like this words fail one. This is the most important occasion not only in my life, but in that of my dear wife, Nokukhanya, who shares with me this honour. For, friends, her encouragement, not just mere encouragement but active support, made me at times fear that she herself might end in jail one day. She richly shares with me this honour.
I will now, Mr. President, humbly present my speech of acceptance of this great honour. A significant honour which I feel I least deserve, Sir.
I have committed into writing what I have to say, I will proceed to read that.
This year, as in the years before it, mankind has paid for the maintenance of peace the price of many lives. It was in the cause of his activities in the interest of peace that the late Dag Hammarskjöld lost his life. Of his work a great deal has been written, but I wish to take this opportunity to say how much I regret that he is not with us to receive the encouragement of this service he has rendered mankind. I might here pause and interject, friends, to say as I was thinking of this unfortunate occasion that brought about the passing of Dag Hammarskjöld. I remember that many lives have been lost in Africa, starting with Livingstone of old to this day. Lives worthily lost to redeem Africa. It is significant that it was in Africa, my home continent, that he gave his life. How many times his decisions helped to avert a world catastrophe will never be known. But there are many of such occasions, I am sure. But there can be no doubt that he steered the United Nations through one of the most difficult phases in its history. His absence from our midst today should be an enduring lesson for all peace-lovers, and a challenge to the nations of the world to eliminate those conditions in Africa, nay, anywhere, which brought about the tragic and untimely end to his life. This, the devoted Chief Executive of the world.
As you may have heard, when the South African Minister of Interior announced that subject to a number of rather unusual conditions, I would be permitted to come to Oslo for this occasion, conditions, Mr. President, made me literally to continue a bad man in the free Europe. He expressed the view that I did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for 1960. Such is the magic of a peace prize, that it has even managed to produce an issue on which I agree with the Government of South Africa. I don’t think there are very many issues on which we agree. Although for different reasons.
It is the greatest honour in the life of any man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and no one who appreciates its profound significance can escape a feeling of inadequacy, and I do so very deeply, when selected to receive it. In this instance, the feeling is the deeper, not only because these elections are made by a committee by the most eminent citizens of this country, but also because I find it hard to believe that in this distressed and heavily laden world I could be counted among those whose efforts have amounted to a noticeable contribution to the welfare of mankind. I recognize, however, that in my country, South Africa, the spirit of peace is subject to some of the severest tensions known to men. Yes, it is idle to speak of our country as being in peace, because there can be no peace in any part of the world where there are people oppressed. For that reason South Africa has been, and continues to be, the focus of world attention. I therefore regard this award as a recognition of the sacrifice made by many of all races, particularly the African people, who have endured and suffered so much for so long. It can only be on behalf of the people of South Africa, all the people of South Africa, especially the freedom-loving people, that I accept this award, that I acknowledge this honour. I accept it also as an honour not only to South Africa, but for the whole continent of Africa, to this continent, Mother Africa! To all its people, whatever their race, colour or creed might be, and indeed, friends, I like to say, quite long ago my forefathers extended a hand of friendship to people of Europe when they came to that continent. What has happened to the extension of that hand only history can say, and it is not time to speak about that here, but I would like to say, as I receive this prize of peace, that the hand of Africa was extended. It was a hand of friendship, if you read history.
It is an honour for the peace-loving people of the entire world and an encouragement for us all to redouble our efforts in this struggle for peace and friendship, or indeed we do need in this world of ours at the present moment peace and friendship. These are becoming very rare commodities in the world. For my part, I am deeply conscious of the added responsibility which this award entails. I have the feeling that I have been made answerable for the future of the people of South Africa, for if there is no peace for the majority of them there is no peace for any one. As I said it is idle to speak of peace anywhere where there are people still suffering under oppression. I can only pray, friends, that The All Mighty will give me the strength to make my humble contribution to the peaceful solution of South Africa’s, and indeed, the world’s problems, for it is not just South Africa, or Africa, there are other parts of the world where there are tensions, and those places are sorely in need of peace, as we are in my own continent, as we are in my own area of South Africa.
Happily, I am only one among millions who have dedicated their lives to the service of mankind, who have given time, property and life to ensure that all men shall live in peace and happiness, and I like to here say, that there are many in my country who are doing so.
I have already said I have noticed this award on behalf of all freedom-loving peoples who work day and night to make South Africa what it ought to be. It is appropriate, Your Majesty, Mr. President, at this point, to mention the late Alfred Nobel to whom we owe our presence here, and who, by establishing the Nobel Foundation, placed responsibility for the maintenance of peace on the individual. It is so easy sometimes to hide under groups when you do very little for a cause. Here the stress is on the individual, so making peace, no less than war, is the concern of every man and woman on earth, whether they be in Senegal or Berlin, in Washington or in the shattered towns of South Africa. However humble the place, it can make its contribution also, it is expected to make its contribution to peace. It is this call for quality in the late Nobel’s ideals which have won for the Nobel Peace Prize the importance and universal recognition which it enjoys. For indeed it enjoys deservingly this universal recognition. In an age when the outbreak of war would wipe out the entire face of the earth, the ideals of Nobel should not merely be accepted or even admired, they should be lived, with a stress on, they should be lived!
It is so easy to admire a person, to admire what he or she stood for or stands for, and yet shrink from cutting off the mission of the present. The challenge, friends, is for us to live the ideals that Nobel tried to uphold in the world as enshrined in the Nobel Peace Prize and other prizes which he bequeathed to mankind. Scientific inventions, at all conceivable levels should enrich human life, not threaten existence. Science should be the greatest ally, not the worst enemy of mankind. Only so can the world, not only respond to the worthy efforts of Nobel, but also ensure itself against self-destruction. Indeed the challenge is for us to ensure the world from self-destruction. In our contribution to peace we are resolved to end such evils as oppression, white supremacy and race discrimination, all of which are incompatible with world peace and security. There is indeed a threat to peace.
In some quarters it is often doubted whether the situation in South Africa is a threat to peace, it is no doubt that any situation where men have to struggle for their rights is a threat to peace. We are encouraged to know, by the very nature of the award made for 1960 that in our efforts we are serving our fellow men in the world over.
May the day come soon, when the people of the world will rouse themselves, and together effectively stamp out any threat to peace in whatever quarter of the world it may be found. When that day comes, there shall be “peace on earth and goodwill amongst men”, as was announced by the Angels when that great messenger of peace, Our Lord came to earth.
A new Nobel Prize Lesson is now available and ready to use in the classroom.