Chief Albert Luthuli: SA inquest into 1967 death Apartheid hero

Chief Albert Luthuli: SA inquest into 1967 death Apartheid hero
Chief Albert Luthuli was a victim of intense political repression by the apartheid regime

Chief Luthuli's family and activists have long cast doubts on the white-minority government's version of his death.

BBC | A new inquest will be held into the mysterious death in 1967 of South Africa's anti-apartheid leader and first Nobel Peace Prize winner Chief Albert Luthuli, justice minister Ronald Lamola has said.

Chief Luthuli's family and activists have long cast doubts on the white-minority government's version of his death.

Its inquest found that the Nobel laureate had died in an accident after being hit by a train as he was walking by a railway line near his home in KwaZulu-Natal province.

But campaigners suspected the regime killed him and covered it up by claiming he had died of a fractured skull after being struck by a train.

At the time of his death, Chief Luthuli was not allowed to leave his residential area in Groutville or take part in politics.

He was the leader of the banned African National Congress (ANC) - the liberation movement that came to power in 1994 when the racist system of apartheid ended.

Chief Luthuli won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 for spearheading the campaign against apartheid - an award that was later given to three other South Africans: Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984 and Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk in 1993.

Mr Mandela went on the next year to become the country's first democratically elected president, taking over from Mr De Klerk.

The new government set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which looked into the crimes of the apartheid era and was chaired by Archbishop Tutu.

In a statement, Mr Lamola said a new inquest would "open very real wounds", but "the interest of justice can never be bound by time".

"The truth must prevail," he added.

Mr Lamola said he acted on the recommendation of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which cited a "mathematical and scientific" report as saying that it was "highly unlikely that Chief Luthuli was struck by a train and died because of that".

Mr Lamola also announced new inquests into the deaths of two other prominent anti-apartheid activists - Griffiths Mxenge and Booi Mantyi.

Mr Mxenge was killed by a hit squad of the regime. Its commander, Dirk Coetzee, was granted amnesty by the TRC after he confessed that he gave the order to kill him. Two others members of the hit squad were also granted amnesty.

The justice ministry said the inquest into Mr Mxenge's death would be re-opened as new evidence had emerged, suggesting that "certain critical information" had not been presented to the TRC.

Mr Mxenge's body was found with multiple stab wounds at a stadium near Durban, the main city in KwaZulu-Natal, in 1981. His throat had been slit open.

Mr Mantyi was killed in an alleged altercation with the apartheid regime's police force in 1985 in the small town of De Aar in the Northern Cape province.

An inquest at the time found no-one was responsible for his death.

The justice ministry said an eyewitness, who had previously not testified, had been identified prompting the decision to re-open the inquest.

Similar inquests have been held in recent years into the deaths of other anti-apartheid activists.

The first such inquest led to a judge finding in 2017 that school teacher and activist Ahmed Timol was murdered by police. It overturned the findings of the apartheid regime's inquest that he had taken his own life by throwing himself from the 10th floor of a police building.

The announcement of the latest inquests comes just over two weeks before South Africa holds its general election.

The ANC is facing its toughest electoral test in 30 years, with opinion polls suggesting it could lose its outright majority for the first time.

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