The struggle to avert catastrophic climate change is essentially to protect our children, and their children’s futures.
The world as we know it is broken.
Indeed, we have been on a path of destruction for far too long. Now that there is acceptance that climate change threatens our present, and future, humanity must now redress its relationship with nature.
But it is the people, and our relationship with our environment that need to be healed. The planet does not actually need saving. If we continue on our dirty energy addiction, we will destroy our water sources and soil, and our ability to survive as a species on this planet. The struggle to avert catastrophic climate change is essentially to protect our children, and their children’s futures.
To be able to do this effectively, we must ask, as Martin Luther King Jr urged us to do several decades ago, whether it makes sense to “adjust” to racial injustice, religious bigotry or an economic system. A system that takes necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, as millions of God’s children are smothering in an airtight cage of poverty.
We live in a global economy that serves 1% of the population, and where the powers that be make a farce of democracy. Leaders serve themselves, not the people who elected them to power. Governments the world over are increasingly ignoring people as the core of development processes and thinking. We have seen it countless times, including with our own state capture, and the corruption surrounding the nuclear deal.
It was only thanks to the efforts of individuals and civil society movements that the nuclear deal was brought to light, and challenged in court, eventually leading to a temporary victory in the high court.
But the battle is not over.
The work to heal our country, environment, and community is just that, a battle that we all need to fight.
When I set out on this journey, now known as Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity, I realised how much of the work to build a new model of pan-African unity is about healing, and bringing people closer to each other. It is about finding the common ground between us, and building consensus on ways to live that would harmonise with each other and the planet.
|If we can see humanity and God in the eyes of every human being we meet, the world will be a much better place.|
“Africans have a diverse, rich and powerful heritage that is important to heal ourselves and repair the damage done by neo-liberalism to our humanity and environment.” These words, at the core of the Kilimanjaro Declaration, the founding charter of this new movement, remind me of the duty we all have to our country, as much as ourselves. We need to be healers.
We also need to recognise that we have a lot more healing to do to reverse our painful political history of apartheid and discrimination. While on the one hand we should not be held back by history, we must not, and cannot ignore that history in figuring out the way towards a society where we have healed the hurt of the past. The Truth and Reconciliation processes took us some way forward, but that journey is an incomplete one.
There are also new tensions emerging in our society, such as the deepening intergenerational divide. We ignore this at our own peril. The older generation must try to better understand the legitimate frustrations of young people, who feel betrayed by corruption, bad policies, and the failure to deliver on promises more than two decades after liberation. If we do not heal this emerging divide, we run the risk of greater fragmentation in our society.
Adult leaders must stop simply saying that “young people are the leaders of tomorrow”. In fact, if young people continue to wait to take leadership, there might not be a tomorrow. Society needs the perspectives of young people in public life, who are not simply acting as a megaphone for old leaders who have run out of fresh ideas, or a vision for preparing for a climate-constrained reality.
So yes, we have a lot of healing to do.
We need to do this in a manner that recognises our common humanity, with all the challenges, contradictions and complexities we have to deal with. We need to muster up a lot more compassion to understand those who might appear different to us, and why they act in the way they do.
But as my late mum told me: “If we can see humanity and God in the eyes of every human being we meet, the world will be a much better place”.
About Kumi Naidoo:
Naidoo is a human rights activist, and the former executive director of Greenpeace. He was the first African to head the organisation. After battling apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s through the Helping Hands Youth Organisation, Naidoo led global campaigns to end poverty and protect human rights.
He was the secretary general of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty and the secretary general of Civicus, an international alliance for citizen participation. He has recently led the Global Call for Climate Action, which brings together environmental, aid, religious and human rights groups, labour unions and scientists.
He has organised mass demonstrations around climate negotiations. He is currently the director of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity.