To Zuma, with love: the Arctic 30

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Feature story - November 18, 2013
Today, Greenpeace International Executive Director and former anti-Apartheid activist, Kumi Naidoo, called on South Africa's leader, President Jacob Zuma to speak up for the release of 30 men and women arrested for a peaceful protest in Russia.

Read Kumi's open letter to President Zuma:


Dear President Zuma,

I write to you not only as an anti-apartheid activist but also as a proud South African. As we move to celebrate 20 years of democracy for South Africa, I have once again been reminded of the fight for justice and freedom.

On 18 September 2013, 30 people acted on deeply held convictions to protect the Arctic and its immediate environment by undertaking a peaceful protest at Gazprom’s oil drilling platform Prirazlomnaya. Two of the activists tried to climb the side of the platform and attempted to stage a safe, peaceful protest. More than 24 hours later, Russian security services descended from a helicopter onto the deck of the Greenpeace ship - Arctic Sunrise, seized the ship at gunpoint and detained the crew. This took place outside Russia’s territorial waters.

Their fate is a matter of global concern.

The Arctic is the great moderator of the Earth’s fragile ecosystem; sadly the trend for the past 30 years has been annual temperature increases -- this means the ice in the Arctic is melting at a faster rate than predicted. The affect could be an inability for the Earth to regulate the temperature of its oceans. Rising sea levels are certain.

Gazprom’s business depends on the complete exploitation of the Arctic ecosystem; where an oil spill would be catastrophic for the region, with long lasting impacts on the region and equally important its people. The risks of such an accident are ever present, and the oil industry’s response plans remain wholly inadequate.

We are in the first week of the UN climate change negotiations (COP 19). South Africa has played a leading role in steering the climate change debate at the UNFCCC, in both the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) and the African group. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth assessment review, which clearly states that human activities, such as fossil fuel production, are responsible for climate change. It is now clear that climate change threatens all of us and it is the worlds’ most vulnerable who are paying the price for developed countries’ failure to act. It is especially true for the people of Africa.

The African continent is on the frontline of climate change, with the people of this continent likely to be deeply impacted by extreme heat-waves, droughts, floods and significant impacts on food security. We must accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels and move towards a future built on safe, clean and renewable energy.

South Africa has a long and entrenched history of struggle and in the end, victory. The country is held in high esteem and its leaders are looked upon in very difficult times to show courage, direction and conviction against decisions that have long term negative consequences for the planet.

I urge you to please stand up, inspire and ask your Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin to use any avenues of influence open to him as president of the Russian Federation to ensure that the excessive charges of piracy and hooliganism brought against the detainees are dropped immediately. You may also respectfully ask that the two independent freelance journalists, who are not Greenpeace members, be freed instantly.

I ask this of you Mr President during the COP19 conference being held in Warsaw, Poland, where thousands of participants, negotiators and heads of state are meeting to discuss the fate of our planet. Please take this moment to resolve in your mind that 30 people and 30 families face a very uncertain fate - a fate that will impact on their own futures and the future of the Arctic forever.

Yours Sincerely,
Kumi Naidoo
Greenpeace International Executive Director