JOHANNESBURG - South African Kumi Naidoo, a prominent anti-apartheid activist who as a teen organised peaceful civil disobedience against racist authorities in that country, has been appointed secretary-general of the world’s largest human rights group Amnesty International.
He took the job in the same week that Amnesty International, during an event on the sidelines of the just-ended SADC Summit in Windhoek, called on President Hage Geingob, as new chairperson of the regional bloc, to trump up improved protection and welfare of people with albinism.
The Durban-born human rights defender, who has worked extensively for South Africa’s ruling party ANC, becomes the first African to lead Amnesty International in that capacity.
One of his first major decisions was to operate from South Africa, and not London where his predecessors sat.
“I took a conscious decision to sit in Africa where issues of human rights come up more than any other region,” he said to Southern African editors meeting him in Johannesburg. “Demography is important. I want to make Amnesty truly global,” he assured.
Naidoo said he wanted all major international NGOs to work closely and not in silos as if often currently the case.
“Although the portfolios might be different, all international NGOs are working for the betterment of the world. So why working in silos?” he noted, adding that the youth must be more involved in the international NGO movement.
Pressed on what Amnesty’s take was on perceived deterioration of human rights protection in Zambia, where the biggest independent newspaper The Post was closed down for alleged tax-related transgressions – as well as the current situation in Zimbabwe – Naidoo said Amnesty prides itself in first doing extensive research before taking a position on any matter.
“We do rigorous work before taking a position on any issue. Remember we’re completely non-partisan especially in the sense of party politics,” he explained.