Jay Naidoo (Pic: www.jaynaidoo.org)
Jay Naidoo has the bearing of someone who should be approached only if you have an urgent point to make about a global crisis. His goatee and mustache only enhance that effect. In reality, he is far more affable.
These days, Naidoo, a seasoned South African political dissident and campaigner who would easily fit in a Che Guevara music band, is comfortably ensconced in positions such as a member of the Broadband Commission of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He is also on the Global Advisory Health Board for the World Economic Forum and Patron of ‘Scatterlings of Africa’, a paleontological foundation linking archaeological sites across Africa.
But there was a time when Naidoo was one of the leading campaigners against South Africa’s apartheid.His official biography says that he was the founding General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) where he served three terms (1985 to 1993). “He was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid leading the largest trade union federation in South Africa,” it says.
After apartheid was dismantled and with the rise of Nelson Mandela, Naidoo made an easy transition into political life. From 1994 to 1999, he was the Minister responsible for South Africa’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in the Office of the President.He went on the become the Communications Minister in Mandela’s Cabinet.
I met Naidoo during a just concluded conference on global transformation in Mumbai. I was an observer on the sidelines. He was a participant who had just returned from one of New York’s two biggest billed annual gatherings in September every year—The Clinton Global Initiative. The other would be the United Nations General Assembly, although it is becoming harder to tell which one is more influential.
I conversed with Naidoo during various breaks yesterday but could not possibly write about it because I did not tell him that I was planning to. However, among the more interesting points he made about Africa in general during the deliberations, there was one about how the giant continent accounts for 70 percent of the world’s arable land. That makes it a prime agricultural real estate which major nation-states are eyeing and grabbing to ensure their own food security. (The last line is my construct and not his). China and India are among the prominent names that have rapidly established their presence there from the standpoint of food security, more so China than India.
Naidoo also mentioned how the continent’s population is likely to touch two billion from the current about one billion by 2050 and significantly impact the global dynamic. As the world’s other exploitable resource bases shrink, Africa remains largely untapped, although in recent years there has been a dramatic turnaround. China with her despot-agnostic foreign policy is able to exercise considerable influence by not making its economic aid conditioned upon political or human rights reform. India, on the other hand, has always taken a more nuanced and humanitarian route even while keeping her eye on the continent’s enormous natural potential.
One of these days I will interview Naidoo. For now, I have divested myself enough of free wisdom on yet another global issue.