Born in South Africa in 1965, Kumi Naidoo became involved in South Africa's liberation struggle at the age of 15 when he joined the Helping Hands Youth Organisation (an affiliate of the South African Youth Congress). Born in 1965 he received his BA in Political Science, cum laude, from the University of Durban-Westville in 1985. After the Apartheid government imposed a State of Emergency the following year, Kumi was arrested numerous times, charged for violating provisions against mass mobilisation and civil disobedience. Police harassement eventually forced him to go underground before fleeing to the UK in 1987. Kumi spent his time in exile at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, earning a doctorate in political sociology.
After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, Kumi returned to South Africa to work on the legalisation of the African National Congress. He was founding executive director of the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), whose mandate is to ensure that the traditions of civil society continue to serve the people of South Africa. In addition, he held several leadership positions on a wide range of education, development, and social justice initiatives, including the 1997 National Men’s March against Violence against Women and Children, the adult education NGO sector and as the official spokesperson for the 1994 Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). He remains a board member of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development.
From 1998 to 2008, Kumi was the Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of Johannesburg-based Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. He has also been Global Council co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty since its inception in 2003.