Kumi Naidoo is a life-long social justice campaigner hailing from South Africa. Born in Durban in 1965, Kumi’s first taste of activism came at age 15 when he organised and took part in an anti-apartheid protest that saw him expelled from his school.
From there he became deeply embedded in activism in his local community and organising mass mobilisations against the apartheid regime. In 1986, at the age of 21, Kumi was charged for violating the state of emergency regulations. He was forced to go underground, before deciding to live in exile in the UK where he stayed until Nelson Mandela was released and liberation movements were unbanned.
As the apartheid regime crumbled, Kumi returned to South Africa in 1990 to work with the African National Congress. There, he took up a cause close to his heart: education, specifically adult literacy campaigns and voter education efforts to empower historically and systematically disenfranchised communities.
Kumi has held multiple leadership roles, but his time as Executive Director of Greenpeace International cemented his reputation as a bold activist who championed civil disobedience, most notably when he was arrested for scaling a Greenlandic oil rig to hand-deliver a petition in protest of drilling in the Arctic in 2011. A year later he occupied a Russian oil rig in the Barents Sea in the Russian Arctic.
Kumi’s most recent role has been as a co-founder and interim chair of the pan-African organization, Africans Rising for justice, peace and dignity. The group, which has forged partnerships across trade unions, religion and civil society, aims to change the fact that while the Africa as a continent has benefitted from economic growth, Africans themselves have not shared in that increasing wealth and power.
It was seeing a letter that Nelson Mandela had written to Amnesty International in 1962, thanking the organisation for sending a representative to observe his trial, that inspired Kumi to apply for the role as the global head of Amnesty.