J.Naidoo continues to be one of the most vocal Africans and is still a major influence in his native South Africa. He is currently the Chairman of GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition), and as such is someone the international community turns to on issues of health and nutrition. He speaks to New African’s correspondent, Sena Kpodo
I come from South Africa, lived under apartheid and when I was four years old, we were evicted from our home because we had the wrong colour of skin.
From a very early age you knew what apartheid was because it took away your human dignity, it’s like someone comes and steals your personality. So you become militant, you become political, you become very angry, and that’s what I was, I became very angry.
Growing up as a teenager I met Steve Biko, a great patriot and student leader who led the Black Consciousness Movement. I went to listen to him when I was 15 years old, it was in a crowded church hall. He made an important point: “Liberation can only start, once you liberate your mind.” It was in this that I found my anger now had a channel. It had a political cause to it. We could not live our lives of indignity and we had to make a choice to go out and fight for freedom. We had to. Because it was better to die fighting for political freedom than to live under apartheid, in which we felt inferior. So that was my early beginning.
In 1994, I was asked by President Nelson Mandela to join his government (the first ever black-led government in South Africa). I served as his Minister of Reconstruction and Development but when Mandela left leadership, I left too, because I’m not a politician, I’m a political activist and there is a big difference between the two.
“It was better to die fighting for political freedom than to live under apartheid.”