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Narendra Makanji, anti-racist campaigner who stood up for the Whittington

Labour leader Corbyn pays tribute to party stalwart whose surprise removal from top job sparked row

12 April, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Narendra Makanji at an anti-apartheid protest

NARENDRA Makanji, a lifelong anti-racist campaigner, former chairman of the Whittington Hospital and Labour Party activist, has died aged 66.
Jeremy Corbyn has paid tribute to his “great pal”, who died suddenly from a heart attack last Thursday.

Mr Makanji, who was a ward councillor in Wood Green until 2006, was also chairman of the Whittington Hospital in Archway from 2003 to 2007.

In a moving video published online, the Labour leader praised Mr Makanji’s time as chairman, describing him as “truly fantastic”.

“He stood up for the local hospital and the local community,” said Mr Corbyn.

While at the helm of the trust, Mr Makanji was keen to ensure black and minority ethnic hospital workers and patients were well represented.

His surprise removal from the top board position at the hospital and replacement with a management consultant was met with outcry from residents and other board members.

Islington and Camden MPs at the time – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thorn­berry, former health secretary Frank Dobson and Glenda Jackson – were united in their support for Mr Makanji. The lifelong cricket fan came to Britain from Zimbabwe in his 20s to study chemical engineering at the University of Bradford.

Mr Makanji with Jeremy Corbyn

He was driven by a desire to stamp out racial injustice.

His friend and fellow Haringey councillor Isi­doros Diakides des­cribed him as the “heart and soul” of the Labour Party’s Black Sections in the 1980s.

The Black Sections were created by Labour activists throughout the country who were frustrated at the lack of ethnic minority representation in Parliament following mounting racial tension throughout Britain.

Cllr Diakides said: “At the time there was a hostile environment in the Labour Party hierarchy for these sections but Narendra gradually won. He set up one of the first black sections and was busy organising.”

Alongside Mr Corbyn, Mr Makanji was instrumental in opposing National Front marches through the streets of Haringey.

Mr Makanji was at the “Battle of Wood Green” in 1977 when the National Front planned a march through the borough on the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

Around 3,000 anti-racist protesters met the National Front, who were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred.

Cllr Diakides, who represents Tottenham Green, said: “I’ve come across so many people, literally dozens, from south London to Manchester, who told me Narendra encouraged them to get into politics, myself included.

“He was a very, very pleasant person to deal with. He had a great wit and was a shrewd operator. He would read circumstances and find solutions where no one else could.”

A great fan of Bollywood films and Radio 4’s The Archers, Mr Makanji often talked about both to friends.

He died from a heart attack. Friends are invited to a memorial event at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham from 7pm on Tuesday.

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