100 World Class South Africans: Kumi Naidoo

2013-07-01 12:06

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Saving the planet

The CEO of a multinational once explained Kumi Naidoo’s popularity to him: ‘Some of my peers are desperate to get you at the table because they hope that they then might not be on your menu.’

Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace, knows how to cook up a storm.

In June 2011 he was jailed in Greenland after scaling an oil-drilling platform owned by Cairn Energy; in 2012 he and six other activists were hosed down with ice water when they occupied an oil rig belonging to Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Raised in Durban, his early militancy against apartheid prepared him well for his current work.

‘Being jailed at the age of 15 [during apartheid] and finally bringing change proved to me that even the most brutal regimes and systems can be changed for the better. Nothing is impossible,’ he told Outsideonline.com.

But as an Oxford Rhodes scholar with a doctorate in political sociology, Naidoo is about more than (non-violent) activism.

He also charms his way into corporate boardrooms to win support for his climate change and social justice agenda – even while Greenpeace guards its outside-the-lines radical status. It’s a sophisticated game that raises eyebrows.

Naidoo’s harshest critics are former Greenpeace officials who say he’s betraying the group’s roots and turning it into a social welfare and fundraising organisation.

But he passionately believes that the struggle to end global poverty, and the struggle to avoid catastrophic climate change, are two sides of the same coin.

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