The following is my unedited Gleaner column of March 22, 2017. Because it goes directly against the anti-Latoya Nugent and anti-#saytheirnames position adopted by the Gleaner this column wasn’t even shown in the Commentary lineup today (the sidebar showing columns published on a particular day), and you would have had to search hard to find it, very odd considering the number of views it has attracted. Anyway, thank the various gods for blogs…i can easily remedy the situation by posting it here.
The latest is that Nugent’s case which was to have been heard today has been postponed to March 31 because DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) Paula Llewelyn has announced ‘an interest’ in the case. We shall see when the time comes what this ‘interest’ means for issues of libel and defamation in cyberspace. Meanwhile the fate of Latoya Nugent aka as Stella Gibson on Facebook (the name of a hardcore police detective who’s an unapologetic feminist from the British show The Fall) hangs in the balance.
As I pointed out in an earlier column, Jamaican men cry rape every time women say, “Yes, let’s say their names.” A kind of hysteria breaks out because somehow they hear this as women demanding the right to falsely accuse men of raping them. But this is not what women are demanding at all, particularly in the new activism around violence against women.
According to Latoya Nugent, one of the founders of Tambourine Army, most of what has been said in both traditional and social media about the#saytheirnames movement is a damaging and gross misrepresentation. She clarifies that the movement is emphatically not about recklessly calling names without any context:
When we encourage survivors to say the names of perpetrators we are not telling them where to say that name, when to say that name, we are telling them that if they are ever ready to say the names of their perpetrators in private and/or in public that support is available. Whether you want emotional support, psychological support or legal support, it is available for you. I want folks to appreciate that this is about facilitating the empowerment of survivors and about shifting the blame and shame away from survivors and placing it squarely at the feet of perpetrators and institutions which have allowed folks to abuse their positions of authority and trust because they are aware that we as a society silence our victims and our perpetrators. Our first response when a woman or girl says to us that they have been sexually assaulted or raped is that we don’t believe them and #Saytheirnames is about saying to such women, ‘we believe you, if you decide to come forward we believe you, we will provide the support that you need and if we can’t provide it, we will point you to the entities, or the agencies or the individuals who can give you the support that is needed.’ (Transcribed verbatim from an interview with Nationwide’s Cliff Hughes the day before Latoya Nugent was arrested)
Basically there has been a ‘see and blind, hear and def’ or “see not, hear not, speak not” policy in place in Jamaica for decades. There is widespread buy-in from civil society, the media, the Church, the University, the legal fraternity, you name it. It is enforced by an army of prim citizens, whose first reaction when you speak out about an injustice is to raise their finger to their lips in the universal gesture that means ‘halt your speech’ or ‘stop your noise’ as they say here.
People are socialized to believe that it is fundamentally wrong to ‘call someone’s name’ in public, especially in the media. This should only be done after accusations have been proved in court they say. But court cases take years to be completed in Jamaica and even when they do, often fail to deliver justice. Take the case of the Reverend Paul Lewis, accused of raping a 14-year old girl in Sav-la-Mar, in the presence of another 14-year old girl who testified in court to the rape. Despite the Reverend’s semen being found on the child’s underwear, despite the testimony of an eyewitness, a Jamaican court saw fit to hand down a ‘not-guilty’ verdict.
More often than not rape victims don’t report the crime or give up during the extremely painful, invasive process of going to court to prosecute their attackers. A senior lecturer at UWI says: “I’ve watched helplessly while one of my (now former) students went through 4 years of appearances, delays, and postponements in the courts for the prosecution of two young men whom she had been able to identify as being among her assailants in a gang rape. She eventually decided to pull out of the case. As she put it, they had taken enough of her life, and every time she was required to make another court appearance, she relived the experience. She needed to move on. Justice denied. I wish the perpetrators could be named.”
“Every year, an average of 5,500 people are reporting sexual violence to Canadian police, but their cases are dropping out of the system as unfounded long before a Crown prosecutor, judge or jury has a chance to weigh in,” reports the Globe and Mail. The use of the term ‘unfounded’ to describe cases that the police have dropped due to the inadequacies of their own methods of interviewing victims, taking statements etc has been identified as highly problematic. The article goes on to state:
“True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia.”
There is no reason the numbers would be markedly different in Jamaica. Why then the moral panic about the mere possibility of libel in cyberspace? And why is there not a similar outcry about the out-of-control rape culture here?
Part 2 of my interview with Executive Director of Greenpeace International Kumi Naidoo.
On December 5, the day Nelson Mandela finally died, after a heavily mediated, prolonged deathwatch, I was in Amsterdam with Kumi Naidoo, a close South African friend of many years standing. In between hundreds of requests for his comments from global media I managed to sneak in an interview myself. I had originally planned to interview Kumi about his role as Executive Director of Greenpeace International, about the predicament of the Arctic 30 who were still in captivity in Russia then and other environmental issues but the occasion demanded that we discuss the passing of Mandela and all that it symbolized and meant. This became Part 1 of the interview published on this blog two weeks ago, Nelson Mandela, Servant Leadership and ‘Born-heres’ : An Interview with Kumi Naidoo, Part 1. Here now is Part 2 in which the environment and activism in general are foregrounded. Make sure to watch the video embedded below for a rich elucidation of some of the points raised in passing in this interview.
AP: Let’s now talk about the fact that you are Executive Director of Greenpeace International which is interesting in itself because you would be the first… I don’t want to say, non-white person to be in that kind of position, but person from the South, let’s say, representing completely new populations globally. Has this been a challenge? The fact that Greenpeace was previously a very kind of white European, or European-origin dominated organization, or is that a wrong perception?
KN: No, historically, that’s the reality. It started in Canada and moved to the US and Europe and Australia and so on, but Greenpeace actually has been operating in the global south for a long time with strong leaders emerging from those parts of the world who are into global leadership roles as well, but still that is not the majority of the experience. It’s still an area we are committed to making more progress in. And one of the things that I’ve been working on is strengthening our presence in the poorer parts of the world, parts of the world where if we don’t get it right, such as India, China, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa and so on, with big population sizes, then you know we can get every country in Europe to go to clean green energy, but that’s not going to cut it, because the population sizes in the developing world are mushrooming… Just from a very basic doing the math, it makes sense to invest more there and to strengthen our ability to encourage those countries not to follow the same dirty energy path that today’s rich countries built their economies on.
This is not easy to do, because, justifiably, developing countries who have significant access to the remaining fossil fuels are saying, well, why should we not burn it and build our economies in the same way that the others did. But we are saying, the problem is that then you build your economies, and the economies and the infrastructure are going to collapse, because by just continuing to burn fossil fuels, the impacts of climate change are going to become more and more real. And its not a question of us saying that, oh, some time in the future we are going to see climate impacts, we are seeing climate impacts in many parts of the world. Today, in many parts of Africa, and in many small island states, for example, people don’t need climate scientists to come and tell them that climate change is happening and its real. People’s daily lived experiences; rains coming at the times that they didn’t; records that are being broken in terms of hottest temperatures and coldest temperatures. We are seeing storm strength and ferocity, height and velocity increasing to extents that we barely have another recorded moment for. Changes are happening. We can see in the Arctic where the minimum sea ice level last year broke its lowest level.
AP: Sea ice level?
KN: Where there was the lowest level of sea ice. Sea ice serves as the refrigerator or air conditioner of the planet, it plays a key role in climate regulation, and so in that sense, the stakes are very high. At Greenpeace, the reality on the ground has helped to show why we need to win in places like the Philippines and so on, and so resources are shifting but its slower than I would’ve hoped, and the changes could be even bigger than I would’ve hoped. But change is the art of the possible. We don’t have the luxury of saying, okay folks, we’re going to engage in an internal change process now, so let’s think about how to make the most fundamental transformative changes to be as effective as we can, and bring all energies to bear on that.
We are just running out of time, on climate especially, we have to be able to act internally and make the internal changes that we need to make, and the cultural changes that we need to make to be as fit for purpose as we can, and to be as global as the challenge that we are seeking to address. On the other hand we’ve got to continue to fight on the outside at the same time and continue to win as many big and substantial victories to try to reverse the trajectory we’re on. If we continue the way we are, we’re talking about a four degree world, meaning a four degree rise from pre-industrial levels, and right now, its been agreed that we should keep it below two degrees.
AP: The rise of?
KN: Global temperatures. Average global temperatures. And at this rate, this year we passed the 400 parts per million concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, and the safe level of carbon concentration is 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. Already, we’ve hit 400. We’re in a very precarious state. Our political and business leaders are suffering from cognitive dissonance, where all the facts are there but they’re not prepared to act on it.
AP: You were describing how urgent all these issues are, the environmental issues, and I’m wondering why this isn’t obvious to more people than it seems. For instance, in countries like Jamaica, the environment is almost considered a luxury, and people who protest on its behalf are resented, and often portrayed as being anti-development, Luddites etc, etc. Interestingly its often true that they ARE well off, better off than others in the societies they share.
KN: To take my part here, I was involved in the anti-poverty movement for the better part of my life. I was the founding chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, and I’m still involved in it. What I was seeing, looking at it from a short, medium, and a long-term perspective is that the poor were paying the biggest price for environmental destruction. And when you see an environmental crisis, such as hurricane Katrina in a rich country like the United States, what you see is that those folks who are better off are at least able to jump into their four-by-fours and other vehicles and drive away to safety, when the majority of the poor are left stranded, and the numbers of people that died were devastating to see in New Orleans. But then you take that and you can multiply that story hundreds of times over when we look at different environmental impacts. When I look at the issue of water, for more than ten years now, some of us have been saying that the future wars will not be fought over oil but will be fought about over water, and already you can see that happening. Water is the centre of many conflicts, including, by the way, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
So the point I’m making is that if you look at it objectively, the traditional Western environmental movement, which includes Greenpeace, didn’t make the connection early enough between sustainability and equity, and sustainability and poverty. But to Greenpeace’s credit, by the time I arrived there in 2009, they had embraced the idea of sustainable equity or equitable sustainability, which was essentially bringing the agendas of how do we share the resources on this planet in a more equitable way, that everybody should have certain basic things like access to water, sanitation, basic education, health care, and a certain level of energy. There are 1.6 billion people on this planet who live with complete energy poverty today; they don’t have access to a single light bulb. That’s not a small amount of people.
AP: 1.1 Billion, you said?
KN: 1.6 Billion. That’s a substantial amount of people on this planet. So, for me, the struggle to avert catastrophic climate change, which will wipe out all the developments whether in rich or poor countries, is the critical success factor for consolidating any development initiatives that we do, and so, if you look at Bangladesh, some investments that were done, good development work on the coastal parts of Bangladesh, are already being turned back because of sea level rise and salt water contaminating the soil and making it hard for people to grow food that they were able to grow before.
So essentially, the poor, and poor countries–even though poor countries in the main have not been responsible for that huge amount of carbon emissions–if you look at the history of burning oil, coal and gas, and when it started, the irony is that people in poor countries are paying the first and most brutal impacts of climate change. And its only going to get worse. So in that sense, for me, fighting climate change is fundamentally about fighting poverty, and I don’t see a disconnect there.
AP: But you know what I find interesting, when you thing about environmental groups, action groups globally, Greenpeace comes to mind immediately, but one is hard pressed to think of any others. Why do you think that is? I mean, there are other environmental NGOs, aren’t there, who are doing important work?
KN: Yes, there are many… WWF, the World Wildlife Fund…
AP: But I mean one has to think a bit to recall the others…
KN: Well, I suppose its because Greenpeace does take part in, does have as part of our work, peaceful civil disobedience, and that does get us into trouble with the authorities from time to time and gives us more media visibility.
AP: As you are getting now, with the Arctic 30. What does Russia’s reaction of jailing the Arctic 30 imply for activism broadly speaking, for non violent protests, and the like? It’s set a bad precedent, hasn’t it?
KN: I think that there’s two ways you can look at it. One is, just the fact that it happened people will be so shocked by it and will speak out about it, not just in Russia but across the world, and in fact the opposite result might be achieved, which is that people say we really need to make sure that governments do not use such disproportionate force when there are peaceful protests, or such disproportionate use of the formal prosecuting authority. Of course, the other reaction is that people will get intimidated and so they won’t undertake protests. Both will probably be true, as realities. To be fair to Russia, by the way, it is not the only country where there has been a shrinking of civic space, specifically, and democratic space more generally.
AP: Which are the others? China?
KN: Oh no, even in the United States, if you look at their response to September 11: the Patriot Act, legitimizing and defending torture, engaging in extraordinary rendition, racial and religious profiling, NSA, invasion of privacy; I mean all of these things have a chilling effect on citizen participation generally, and civic activism more specifically. In Canada, we have these lawsuits, which are called SLAPP suits, Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which are suits brought by companies to intimidate NGOs and campaign groups. A state like Quebec now actually has anti-SLAPP legislation to prevent companies from doing it–that’s how big a problem it is. For example, in Canada now, a company headquartered in Quebec brings a case in Toronto, because they couldn’t have brought it in Quebec because of the anti-SLAPP Legislation. And they are charging us with a seven million dollar defamation claim.
AP: Who? Greenpeace. What is that in relation to?
KN: To the fact that we made statements condemning the activities in the Boreal Forest.
AP: So its not just Russia.
KN: I think it will not be known for some time exactly what the impact will be, but I also think its going to open up some questions about what level of risk is acceptable for activism to take, given what we face in terms of…
KN: Yes and I don’t know where exactly that will end. As regards Greenpeace, while I’m not saying we will do exactly the same action at the same place in the same way again, neither am I saying that we won’t. But we will obviously learn from this. This has been a big development for us, we will learn from it, and we recognize, as Greenpeace, that we live in a world where people are being killed and tortured and arrested and brutalized for standing up for the environment and social justice everywhere in the world, and we hope that we would be able to help contribute to the push for saying that governments need civil society, society needs active participation and so on, and that hopefully governments will embrace the perspectives of their citizens and allow peaceful protests, including those that have an element of civil disobedience.
AP: Great, thanks so much for this Kumi!
KN: And if you want to connect the two parts of it… Our people in Russia, first were called pirates and now are called hooligans. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and many other people who stood up for freedom and justice, were also, when they were doing so, called all sorts of labels, including labels worse than being called hooligans. Terrorists and so on. But today we revere them as the greatest peoples to have walked on our planet. I have no doubt that the Arctic 30 will be seen as people who did the right thing for the world, and acted out of compassion not out of self-interest. But I hope the world will come to that realization sooner rather than later, because we are running out of time.
An interview with Kumi Naidoo on the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s death in which he talks about the great leader, leadership, activism and identity.
On December 5, the day Nelson Mandela finally died, after a heavily mediated, prolonged deathwatch, I was in Amsterdam with Kumi Naidoo, a close South African friend of many years standing. In between hundreds of requests for his comments from global media I managed to sneak in an interview myself. I had originally planned to interview Kumi about his role as Executive Director of Greenpeace International, about the predicament of the Arctic 30 who were still in captivity in Russia then and other environmental issues. After Mandela’s death I decided to include Kumi’s views on this historic passing in the interview, as an ANC activist of many years standing, as someone who knew and worked with Mandela personally, who better than Kumi Naidoo from whom to get a perspective on Nelson Mandela and political leadership in general. This constitutes Part 1 of the interview. In the second part which i’ll post in a couple of days i ask him about Greenpeace, environmentalism and the Arctic 30 among other things. First an excerpt from Kumi’s Greenpeace blog:
I was 15 years old when I first heard the name Mandela, or Madiba, as he is fondly known in Africa. In apartheid South Africa he was public enemy number one. Shrouded in secrecy, myth and rumour, the media called him ‘The Black Pimpernel’. He was able to avoid the police, using several disguises – a favorite of which was that of a chauffeur – until the CIA colluded with the apartheid regime to ensure his capture. In Durban, where I was born and grew up, and all over Africa, he was a hero! Now he is a hero to the world.
AP: Kumi, you knew Nelson Mandela personally, you’ve had experiences with him, you are from South Africa, and I heard you in the BBC interview a moment ago saying something about how you thought the world could best do justice to him, or the best tribute they could pay to him. Could you develop that point for me?
KN: Mandela was very keen not to be understood as an exceptional person. I’ll give you a story. In 2004, I was in Mobutu, Mozambique, to help moderate a discussion with young people and with some senior African leaders which included Graça Machel and Joaquim Chissano, who was President of Mozambique at that time, and these were kids from eastern and southern African countries who had developed a vision of what they wanted Africa to be in 2050, and were presenting the vision. So, when I was moderating the discussion, one of the young people asked the question: “What is your definition of leadership?” And Mandela’s mind flipped back to the forties and he answered it as he would have answered it at that point: “We in the ANC youth league believe in the idea of collective leadership.” So essentially his notion of leadership was a very servant leadership, that you are there to serve not to take. And the reality is today most of our political leaders want to be treated as gods and semi-gods, from the security details to the fuss around them and so on.
AP: They’re more interested in the aura of leadership?
KN: And I think even though he was feted and praised as he was, he always was at pains to say, I’m a human being. And whenever anybody called him a saint, he would say: “If by saint you mean a sinner who is trying to be better, then I’m a saint.” His own sense of himself was a very humble reading, [different] from how the world read him. And, quite often, you had the sense that he was not comfortable with all the accolades that would be, you know…
AP: Hurled at him.
KN: Yeah, in fact, there’s a beautiful one on women. Nelson Mandela once said “I can’t help it if the ladies take note of me; I’m not going to protest.” He also spoke about how, as a human being, he’s made mistakes. In 1995 when I was heading the Adult Literacy Campaign in South Africa I took kids and adult learners to the Parliament to meet Madiba on International Literacy Day. They were excited to have their picture taken with him – the image was to become a poster for our campaign to promote adult basic education – but everyone was anxious; they were asking me what they should say and how they should approach meeting the President! The main line that people had prepared, the kids, and even the adults that were there, was something like, “Thank you, Mr. President,” or, “Thank you, Madiba, for taking time. We know how busy you are.” But when Madiba emerged from his Cabinet meeting he turned the tables. He walked in and thanked everyone for taking the time to see him. “I know how busy you all are and I thank you for taking time to meet me,” he said. In that moment he closed the gap. He was just a human being, a person like them, and everyone relaxed. Within a minute, that sort of thing about the leader and the lead, the gap was closed, and that’s a rare thing.
One of the things that I noticed with my own eyes was his ability to engage with kings and queens and heads of state on the one hand, and his ability to engage with ordinary people, equally comfortably. For example, I first met him when I was in my late 20s, in 1993. I was helping facilitate an African National Congress (ANC) workshop to plan its media strategy. I went down to meet him for the first time and you know me I got stupid… I just choked. I said, “Hello Madiba, it’s a real honour to meet you,” and I couldn’t get another word out. Just that one sentence. So during the workshop, he quietly, didn’t make a big fuss of it, quietly asked, “Can I go and say thank you to the people who prepared the food, and the workers of the hotel?” And I followed and I watched what he did and he basically shook everybody’s hands in the kitchen and said thank you to everybody.
I’ve come across a lot of people in my life who talk about poverty and talk about the poor, but you rarely have a sense that it matters to them to the point at which they will be willing to sacrifice something. Yes, they feel a sense of solidarity, but when you speak about the poor, that you actually celebrate the eloquence of the poor, the tenacity of the poor, the perseverance, courage… I mean, to survive poverty is… You know, many people theorize poverty, but so many elements of poverty, individually, for most people who theorize about poverty would be really difficult to even comprehend the individual things. Just take homelessness. If you are homeless, what does it mean not to have a post box where people can contact you; what does it mean not knowing where you’re going to sleep at the end of the day; what does it mean not having a place where you can store what little you might possess. So dealing with homelessness in itself is a huge thing for most people who are commentators [on] or benefactors to poverty. Then you take an issue like living with HIV/AIDS… I mean, you know, where health care is difficult… where people have to struggle for access to antiretrovirals and some still don’t have access to them and all of that, and just confronting that alone, for most people, would be a major challenge. And then you got things like educational deprivation as a result of a conscious apartheid strategy, where the founder of apartheid, Verwoerd, once said, and I quote, “Blacks should never be shown the greener pastures of education, they should know that their station in life is to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.”
AP: Who said that?
KN: Verwoerd. V-E-R-W-O-E-R-D. He was the architect of apartheid. Those legacies still live on. And Mandela’s very strong commitment to education more than anything else, and very strong commitment to children more than anything else, comes very much from a deep inter-generational understanding as well. Like when I was the head of the adult literacy movement in South Africa it was always easy to get him to send messages of support and so on. But, because you can say, well, okay, the new government… There’s a term for it in South Africa now, like you know how they talk about the Millennials? There’s a term… ‘Born frees’! The born frees are those that were born after ’94. So now they’re ten years old. They got no… In fact, even if I take talking to the wonderful kids that are a part of my life, and who know the stories because they’ve heard it from me a thousand times, or they’ve been in the presence of friends, who when we get together we always tend to reminisce But still, often they think we’re exaggerating about how bad it was. They don’t really believe, because thankfully they are in more normal situations now, they attend schools with kids of different races, and its no big deal like it was for us. That was such a big thing. So the one thing about Mandela’s leadership is that he was not only a strong leader showing the importance of understanding the appropriate role of individual leadership. But he was always collective-minded, understanding that the wisdom comes from a range of people. For example, his relationship with the other senior leadership of the ANC was critically important to him, like Walter Sisulu was his confidant right until he passed away, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada.
AP: I wanted to ask you about Ahmed Kathrada.
KN: So Kathrada was the youngest of the Rivonia trialists…
AP: Of the what?
KN: The Rivonia trialists. Rivonia was a farm where they were captured from and the trial was known as the Rivonia trial.
AP: Mandela was part of that?
KN: Yes, that was the trial where he got life imprisonment.
AP: What were they trying to do?
KN: They had some explosives…Probably, in military terms, it was not even security training 101.
KN: Actually, maybe I should take that back, because at that time maybe it was as sophisticated as you could get. But the other thing about Mandela which is really important was his passion for peace, because when he came out of prison he was unequivocal about the need to eliminate violence from the politics of South Africa. I remember this one speech, he went into Durban where there was a huge conflict between the ANC and Chief Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party, and it was Mandela’s force of character, his strength with humility, and so on. I mean quite often I think leaders are put into positions of unilateralism where they’re not prepared to deal honestly with their people about the ambiguity of leadership, because sometimes there are situations where you need a leader to be more assertive and maybe even less consultative, and in other situations, normally, I would say that’s a better style of leadership.
AP: Being consultative?
KN: Because then the responsibilities are shared more broadly and those who have responsibility for decisions have a greater investment in them… And as President, in the five years Mandela was there he was a very hands-off President, I would say, Thabo Mbeki did a lot of the day to day management of Cabinet Ministers and so on. And de Klerk was the other Deputy President, there were two Deputy Presidents in the first Cabinet. So I think that the kind of leadership that we need to revisit now as we reflect on one of the greatest leaders that walked this planet is, given where the world is, for example, should leaders take as given that the level of material privilege they assume, that comes with the role of leadership, should it be so vastly different from the day to day realities of often the majority of the people in their countries? So, for example, we have had some signs of positive actions such as the current President of Malawi, first woman to head up Malawi, and she, for example, sold off the Presidential jet. We just assume that the norm of leadership is living the life. So therefore you can see that there are times when leaders have to honestly say to their people, this is a time of austerity and we need to…
AP: Tighten our belts.
KN: …tighten our belts, people are thinking, well its easy for you to say. Its going to mean nothing to you because it will have no material effect on you, given that you have so much of excess income anyway, from what it takes to meet your basic needs. And so I think there needs to be a conversation. If there’s something that should come out of Mandela’s death right now, I would think there has to be a conversation about equality, and its importance, because every problem we have here is a world out of balance. I mean to have less than 200 of the wealthiest people in the U.S. be equivalent of, own more than, 65% of the American people, there’s something wrong with that system, where people have so much that they don’t need and they start being silly, and engage in exuberant consumption which is completely self-serving, and so on. And in that sense Mandela did not… and it was also the issue of his age and all when he came out, because, and don’t forget, he was cut off from the world for 27 years. Its amazing how he just appeared to fit smoothly into that world. But there’s a lot that he had missed in absolute terms. And so I don’t judge him too harshly on this, but the fact is, you know, he didn’t really fundamentally challenge the structural injustices in our economic life, and in that sense, I think that if you assume that he had spent, if you take the time that he was in prison, for example, and how much of that was lost. Because you know people don’t sufficiently acknowledge that he was not only about charisma and wisdom and all of that, he was also a person of intellect. He had a very very amazing intellectual gift, and I think his real gift was that ability to be able to walk one day with kings, queens and heads of state, and another day be as comfortable, and in fact, quite frankly, more comfortable, walking with regular people.
AP: That’s really good, you’ve given me a few private glimpses which aren’t out there which is great. I wanted to go back to the fact that you’re an Indian South African, and people don’t realize that many Indian South Africans participated in the ANC and in those struggles against apartheid. For instance I was quite surprised to see that this cellmate of Nelson Mandela was another Indian South African. What’s his name again?
KN: Ahmed Kathrada
AP: Right, so its not as exceptional as it seems?
KN: No, no, in fact, several South Africans of Indian origin were in Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. There was Mac Maharaj, Billy Nair, who spent twenty years there, and Zed, Uncle Zed we used to call him.
KN: Yes, Z-E-D, he spent fourteen years. Yeah, many, and disproportional to the size of the population in terms of this thing, but it was because of the legacy of Gandhi. During all of that there was quite a strong spirit of resistance in the community. Mandela was fond of Gandhi in terms of his life and work and writings, but the apartheid state, like all colonial regimes, maintained control by divide and rule, and in South Africa, the main form of divide and rule was on the basis of race, and not just that but also on the basis of language, so it wasn’t that it was just white, Indian, African, coloured, as they would’ve called it, but the African community was, the black African community were then broken up into Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana and the other African languages… your language and culture.
AP: Interesting, I have never heard that side.
KN: Yes, so there were people like myself who came through the liberation struggle, who were first influenced by Steve Biko, and were resisting the divisions of apartheid which were also historical and cultural divisions. Distinctions, let’s say, because obviously the people who came as indentured servants from India have a different history versus those who came to be defined as Coloured, whose numbers are in excess of three million; and their community was rich in culture…
AP: And the Coloureds are the hybrid people born out of contact between the Europeans and Africans?
KN: Yes, but the people who were so defined have forged themselves also into a rich community in their own standing. I think one of the richest cultures in South Africa in terms of music, dance, even rich art forms and so on, because there is also Malay influence, because there were slaves brought from Indonesia and Malaysia.
AP: Really, I didn’t know that.
KN: So, given all of these different influences, our response, those that came through the struggle like myself, when the state used to say white and non-white, we said we didn’t want to be non anything. So black then became the unifying identity. And Steve Biko’s big contribution was in the way that he defined black consciousness. He defined it as everybody who wasn’t benefiting from the privileges of white citizenship, and the ANC drew on and embraced that as well, and so for me my identity is very much first and foremost…
AP: A black identity, as a black person?
KN: Today, given the journey I’ve traveled, my first identity, it might sound silly but, is as a human being who is not bound by any man-made boundaries, but my second biggest identity is as an African whose identity is fundamentally linked to the African continent as a whole, and third it is South African, and then fourth, I would say, as a South African of Indian origin, and I don’t see any of those in contradiction. I think that they enrich each other in different ways.