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Chief Luthuli’s footsteps retraced

written by Hlengiwe Ngobese

Sport, arts and culture

A heritage walk in the hometown of struggle icon Albert Luthuli not only commemorated his death 50 years ago, but highlighted the rich history of Groutville.

Hundreds of people gather for the Chief Albert Luthuli Legacy Walk and Half MarathonOver 500 people from KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces descended in Groutville in the north of the province for the second annual Chief Albert Luthuli Legacy Walk and Half Marathon to commemorate the icon and trace his final steps.

In this year’s walk, three generations of Albert Luthuli’s family walked alongside hundreds of athletes, industry leaders and the general public. The event followed a week long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Luthuli’s untimely death.

The route closely followed the final path Luthuli took before he was allegedly struck by a train on the railway bridge in Groutville on 21 July 1967.

Creating a beautiful ambience

His daughter Thandi Luthuli Gcabashe led a group of participants that included the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Africa’s first Nobel Peace Laureate.

“I admired the happy, jolly spirit everyone exhibited to create a beautiful Luthuli ambience. We were lucky to have him as a father. Special thanks to Zakhele Gumede, the originator of the walk and half marathon, and all those involved. We look forward to growing the number of participants in the years to come,” she said

Another highlight of the walk was President Jacob Zuma’s unveiling of a new memorial stone at the grave of Luthuli and his wife at Groutville’s United Congregational Church. 

Growing the event

Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Sihle Zikalala pledged his department’s support for the walk and half marathon in future. He said he hoped this would help it grow into a major sports and community event for the province. He described Luthuli as a liberation struggle giant who was recognised internationally for his efforts to end racial segregation in South Africa.

The commemorative walk and half marathon event was initiated last year by Groutville community member Zakhele Gumede and enjoys the support of the Ilembe District Municipality, the KwaDukuza Municipality, Enterprise iLembe and the Luthuli Museum. Transnet was also a primary sponsor this year.

KwaDukuza Mayor Ricardo Mthembu said: “This day is very important to us as people of KwaDukuza because as you know, Chief Albert Luthuli was a unifier.”

A rich legacy

Participants in the 11.5 km walk and 21 km half marathon were able to experience several iconic sites that contribute to the prolific history of the area. These included the Mahatma Gandhi memorial and statue of Chief Luthuli on Chief Albert Luthuli Street, the King Shaka Visitor’s Centre which houses Shaka’s grave, the Observation Rock upon which King Shaka used to sit and watch his impis – according to Zulu history, the soccer field where then New York senator Robert F Kennedy’s helicopter landed when he visited Chief Luthuli in 1966, the railway bridge where he was killed, his memorial site nearby and his final resting place at the Groutville United Congregational Church graveyard.

“In KwaDukuza we have a rich legacy and we hope these events will help us use our heritage to build a tourism economy,” said Gumede. All proceeds from the event will go towards the Groutville Intuthuko Yethu NPO formed by the Groutville community.

One of the event participants, Nomalungelo Shoba, encourages youth to take part in future legacy walks to experience the many iconic sites that contribute to the prolific history of the area.