Community pays tribute to Narendra Makanji

Hundreds commemorate the life of former Haringey councillor

By Luchia Robinson

Haringey councillors pay their respects (left to right: host Dotun Adebayo with Cllrs Emine Ibrahim, Adam Jogee, Peray Ahmet, Khaled Moyeed)   Credit: Luchia Robinson

Hundreds gathered at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre to commemorate the life of former Haringey Councillor, Narendra Makanji, who passed away from a sudden heart attack, last month.

Family, friends, colleagues and comrades from the Labour Party, paid homage to Mr Makanji, who was a councillor for the Noel Park ward, Wood Green for 25 years.

Many speakers, including current Noel Park councillors: Emine Ibrahim, Peray Ahmet and Khaled Moyeed, spoke of how Mr Makanji supported their political careers, and the impact he had within the local community- which included opposing the National Front at the Battle of Wood Green in 1977.

Chair of the Bernie Grant Trust; Whittington Hospital and the Selby Trust, Mr Makanji was also a trustee and board member of various other organisations and charities. Sona Mahtani, former Chief Executive of the Selby Trust said: “He saved so many grassroots organisations, put their leaders back on track, and scolded those who ran scared, to protect their own reputations before community interests.

“Narendra, overall boosted the people. He elevated the artists, the community organisers and the activists, and his message to us all was ‘become good and known for what you do. Realise your own opportunity to make history– not just as individuals, but for Haringey, our community, and humanity.”

Mr Makanji was at the forefront of opposing racism; fighting for equality; and building and mobilising a network of black activists.

“Narendra’s life story is a story of the fight against racism- out there on the streets, in the community, in the Labour Party, in the trade union movement, and internationally,” said Unmesh Desai, London Assembly Member.

“Narendra believed in the politics of the movement, and not of the individual.”

Narendra Makanji was pivotal in establishing Black Sections of Labour; a black self-organisation campaign that gave voice to the party’s BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) politicians.

“[Black Sections] came out of the 1980s uprisings. Nothing was given to us– we had to fight, we had to protest, we had to agitate– with Narendra at the head of it all,” said Kingsley Abrams, former Black Sections Youth Organiser and National Secretary, and current General Secretary of Momentum Black Caucus.

“We wrote the black agenda– it wasn’t just about getting somebody a seat, it was about articulating the politics, the concerns, the aspirations- the attacks, the deportations […] happening then.”

Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott spoke of Mr Makanji’s work: “When Narendra and others of us were starting out as councillors, it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t accepted that we could bring the vibrant politics of race and diversity into the Labour Party, and Narendra played an extraordinary key role.”

“[Narendra] was kind, he was hard working, he was principled, he believed in solidarity, and frankly, if there had been any justice, he would have been an MP for 30 years.”

Although never an MP, Narendra Makanji was a supporter of those elected to advance the Labour movement, including the late Tottenham MP, Bernie Grant, who he worked closely beside.

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell described Mr Makanji as a man interested in the “development of an accountable and democratic economy which served the community.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “I considered Narendra a very good, very close, and very loyal friend, in all circumstances.

“We are not going to see him again, or his like again, but we are, in a sense all the beneficiaries of his life, and we are all the better for knowing him– knowing his decency, knowing his principles, knowing his warmth and knowing the way that he inspired and encouraged others.”