Wed, 12 Aug 2020

Some may remember him as the Greenpeace guy arrested for protesting over an oil rig, others as the man who was chucked out of school at 15 for organising an anti-apartheid protest.

From next Tuesday, Durbanite Kumi Naidoo, now the secretary general of Amnesty International, can add another achievement to his busy life when he is conferred with an honorary doctorate in humanities by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) for his social justice work.

"We are convinced that Kumi Naidoo's tireless work, and fearless activism, and his sacrifices for solidarity, democracy, equitable and sustainable development, and social justice resembles and exemplifies UJ's values," stated Professor Chris Landsberg, UJ SA Research Chairs Initiative chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.

Landsberg said the university was proud to confer the degree on Naidoo, and to claim him as an alumni of the institution.

An honorary degree is conferred to recipients who have not taken the examination, but who are recognised for their outstanding contribution to society.

His biography on Amnesty International's website notes that after being expelled from school at 15 for organising an anti-apartheid protest, Naidoo continued mobilising against the regime.

However, in 1986 he was charged with violating state of emergency regulations.

He lived in the UK until Nelson Mandela was released and liberation movements were unbanned. In 1990, he returned to South Africa to work with the ANC and focus on adult literacy and voter education.

In an overview of his work the university noted that he also:

- He headed the environmental group Greenpeace between 2009 and 2015 and was lauded for seeing the connection between environmental justice, gender equality and human rights. His biography explains that he was arrested for scaling a Greenlandic oil rig to hand-deliver a petition in protest of drilling in the Arctic in 2011. He also occupied a Russian oil rig the following year in the Barents Sea in the Russian Arctic.

- He was secretary general of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty where he worked to challenge government and industrialised powers to help end global poverty, alongside musicians Bono and Sir Bob Geldof.

- From 1998 to 2008 he was secretary general of Civicus, an international alliance for citizen participation and most recently organised mass demonstrations around climate negotiations.

- He was a Visiting Fellow at the Carnegie UK Trust in 2009;

- A director of Food Trees for Africa;

- Director of Earth Rights for Africa;

- Chairperson of the Partnership for Transparency Fund, among others.

He will be the fourth recipient of an honorary doctorate during this year's autumn graduations.

Among those chosen for honorary doctorates are:

African-American mathematician, Katherine Johnson whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent US manned spaceflights; the 2016 Nobel prize in chemistry recipient, Professor Bernard Lucas "Ben" Feringa and; the executive director of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Professor Romain Murenzi.

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