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Magic Chats: Kumi Naidoo pens book on life of activism and dealing with trauma after loss

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In the first episode of the Magic Chats podcast, host Viasen Soobramoney speaks to human rights and environmental activist Kumi Naidoo about the launch of his book, titled “Letters to my Mother.”

Naidoo is a former Secretary General of Amnesty International and former Executive Director of Greenpeace International. He has become a global figure in progressive social movements.

His book, “Letters to my Mother” speaks of the trauma he experienced after losing his mother at the age of 15 to suicide. It delves into his background of growing up in apartheid-era Chatsworth and his life of activism.

“Ever since my mum took her life when I was 15, in the sad moments I decided to write to tell her what’s happening. There was a pile of incomplete letters.”

“I think the motivation finally came when I lost my eldest sister, who played the role of our mum after mom died. She died suddenly of brain cancer within a month of being diagnosed in 2018. And that’s when I started writing,” he said.

Speaking on the start of his political activism, Naidoo said his interested started after anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was murdered in 1977.

“That was the first thing that aroused my anger and frustration at what was happening. How could this happen? So I started reading and trying to educate myself,” he said.

Naidoo was a young community organiser and underground ANC activist during the 1980s. He also played a key role in the establishment of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) ahead of South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.

Continuing with activism ventures, Naidoo established the Riky Rick Foundation for Artivism, named after his son Ricardo.

“Especially after the passing of my son, Ricardo, I’ve felt even stronger about keeping the focus and message as encouragement to young people that even somebody who comes from a poor working class community can suffer grief and trauma but can rise to do something good,” he said.

Soobramoney asked Naidoo, what message would he give himself as a 16-year-old now?

Naidoo said a few weeks after his mother passed, a family friend told him whatever sadness and pain he felt, there are many people in the country who are suffering more than he is.

“He told me, ‘My recommendation to you is if you want to cope and survive, live your life with purpose, work for the promotion of dignity of all people, and stand up for justice, because maybe doing that will help you recover from the trauma of your mother’s loss’,” he said.

Written by: Kelly-Jane Turner

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