“You go! Go! Go!” She said with her little arms waving me back in the direction I had come from, “then you come! Come! Come . . .” The others, impatiently also wanting to talk and make this more clear, all tried to join in. “Then you are on the other side now” the young guy interjected, with all of them signalling to me that the ‘other side’ meant being on the other side of the main tar road.
I had to give a chance to a cutie who struggled to shout like the rest, “and then I do what Sisi?”
“And then you go . . . and then you see it”
Wow! Was I impressed!
Not by their interesting directions, but because they had not hesitated and knew exactly who I was talking about and knew exactly the place I was looking for.
Having travelled the length and breadth of Southern Africa, my usual daunting experience is encountering adults who are clueless about the historical sites and monuments that exist in their midst. And here was I, being blown away by this group of five or six year olds!
I was in Groutville in KwaZulu-Natal, looking for Chief Albert Luthuli’s grave.
I had indeed missed a turn. As directed, I made a U-turn, and when the road allowed it, I drove back again, saw and took the turn, and then followed some little road that directly led me to the Congregational Church where Luthuli is buried.
It was a quiet afternoon during the middle of the week. The church’s premises had that dignified ambiance which calls for one to show respect, however way. As I exchanged silent greetings with the two men who were tending to the grounds, the soprano and tenor were hitting the roof inside the church as the choir practised.
Well, what I found was not what I had expected. Luthuli’s grave is simple and ordinary, no fancy tombstone. Was that the portrayal of his famously humble personality?
Around Luthuli’s grave are those of his wife, Nokukhanya, and his other family members.
From those graves one can see the lengthy wall of the church on which is boldly inscribed Luthuli’s history; his life timeline and quotes. “The road to freedom is via the cross”, he once said.
Luthuli led the African National Congress from 1952 until his death in 1967. In 1960 he became South Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But throughout, to the people of Groutville he was just their Chief (traditional leader), period.
Just a short drive from the church, still stands Luthuli’s family home which has been turned into a museum. There, one can still see the historic site under the tree, where Luthuli held talks with the then Attorney General of the US, Senator Robert Kennedy (brother of American President JF Kennedy), in 1966.
My most startling moment at that museum was when I opened the door and presto! Luthuli himself was just sitting there and quietly reading his book!