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South Africa has a new Social Justice Champion: Imtiaz...

South Africa


South Africa has a new Social Justice Champion: Imtiaz Sooliman

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman from Gift of the Givers. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman was named the 2021 Social Justice Champion at the Social Justice Summit hosted by Stellenbosch University’s Law Trust Chair for Social Justice.

It was a lighter moment on Tuesday. Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman had been driving and had to pull over for a moment. His focus had been on Graaff-Reinet, where Gift of the Givers is drilling 12 boreholes to try to help gain access to water, also as load shedding has left the town high and dry. 

“These last two years, all the credit goes to my team. They are working 24/7/365. They are driven by one thing — helping,” said Sooliman, also paying tribute to all the South Africans for their donations and support, and stopping the Gift of the Giver teams at shopping centres to give words of encouragement. 

“It spurs us on as an organisation, as an individual, as a team serving the country.” 

For the Social Justice Summit, this award was the pause in discussions to refocus on the doing — like Lawli, the mascot that helps teach everyday justice to empower and inform youth and communities about law and the Constitution, in one of the Social Justice Chair hub projects. 

That Sooliman and Gift of the Givers are the 2021 Social Justice Champion was the second moment that was more personal. 

Earlier, retired Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron, Stellenbosch University chancellor, in what he called “a personal reflection”, spoke on how antiretrovirals were a lifesaver. 

“I faced the certainty of death. I was 44. Today I feel the joys of a spring day in Johannesburg.”  

Recounting the HIV/Aids denialism of then-president Thabo Mbeki, and the queues for funerals at Avalon Cemetery in Johannesburg, Cameron also recalled activists hitting the streets — and then the courts. 

“Today we have the world’s largest publicly provided [ARV] treatment. Almost six million can say, ‘I took my daily dose. I am alive’.” 

Or, as he put it earlier, “There is nothing we cannot do.”  

However, Cameron said July’s public violence and looting “threatened to undermine all that we sought to achieve in our country”, not only because it undermined the rule of law, but also faith in South Africa. 

“It disclosed how delicate our democracy is, how much urgency we must bring. It also disclosed the harder lesson of the critical importance of building a capable state.” 

Without a capable state and responsive public officials, also those who are elected, South Africa cannot provide relief or social justice. 

While “we are in a perilous moment in South Africa”, according to Cameron, it was also “a pivotal moment… to fight for social justice”. 

Thuli Madonsela, Stellenbosch University’s Law Trust Chair for Social Justice, had a slightly different take. 

“Democracy is mentioned 25 times in the Constitution. The architects of our democracy really wanted us to think about what we do.” 

The socioeconomic redistributive and qualitatively transformative nature of the Constitution was the thread throughout the day, and Monday’s international conference on economic equality, stability and the rule of law. 

For Madonsela, much of this focuses on the M-Plan, named after Palesa Musa who was arrested as an anti-apartheid activist on 16 June 1976 aged 12, and remains in poverty today. 

Part of this plan is to generate disaggregated and differentiated data for law- and policymakers to be in a better position when drafting legislation. Better planning, better implementation and giving life to the constitutional imperatives to equality and redress — or healing the wounds of the past, as the preamble puts it — are key, alongside social accountability, or the empowering of communities to directly hold the government to account.  

Other ingredients include restitution, advancing equality by advancing social rights and meaningful engagement. 

That’s to avoid the one-size-fits-all approach by the government illustrated by Madonsela with the example of a KwaZulu-Natal community that had identified their need for a hall, food gardens and a space where young people could do drama and such. For this, no money was available.

 “The response was a one-size-fits-all. They were given a stadium, which is falling apart. They were given toilets. One of the families I visited already had two toilets.” 

And so one M-Plan project is a collaboration with the Swartland Municipality on data analytics to bring greater certainty — put differently, to avoid those unintended consequences — and to craft policies with a social justice focus. 

A social justice assessment matrix would help capture real-time data on, for example, the impact of the Covid-19 support and relief measures. 

“They have trusted us enough to work together,” said Madonsela at Tuesday’s Q&A media session. Ministers had previously attended the social justice summits. 

“It’s been a mixed reaction, [but] a positive one nonetheless. Today is better than yesterday.” 

Aside from the plenary discussions, 10 so-called parallel sessions discussed a wide range of topics, from land reform, property rights and distribution of assets, to wealth and income distribution, education and tools for “social impact conscious economic planning”. 

This all fed into the Boschendal Declaration, which not only reaffirmed commitment to the Constitution, but called for the mainstreaming of social justice. 

Despite concern over the negative socioeconomic impact of Covid-19, South Africa belonged to all its people and had “enough resources for all to realise their potential” and to achieve equality.  

A strong capable state is needed, the declaration states, alongside fast-tracked social accountability and social cohesion — and strengthened democracy. 

Collaboration should include research, while greater constitutional accountability must be promoted. That could, for example, include certifying legislation that it complies with constitutional transformative social justice imperatives. 

Also important is “Covid-19, rebuilding better together” in an effort to transcend the binary of health and economics, so rebuilding includes climate change, digital inclusion and food security, according to the Boschendal Declaration. 

Closing the Social Justice Summit, Nicky Newton-King, the ex-Johannesburg Stock Exchange CEO and part of the Council of Social Justice Champions, said values of ubuntu are required to make a difference. 

“We meet at a time when our performance on social justice is just underwhelming. There is the realisation that we need to create a sense of urgency. This can no longer be about chatting… but [must be] biased towards action.” DM


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All Comments 8

  • SAs civil society sector is strong, and with the judiciary and some media have made the country quite resilient against antidenocratic forces and stood up to state capture. However many of the services provided by civil society should be provided by a functioning government. What we need is for citizens to understand that they are responsible for the choices they make at the voting booth, whether to vote or not and who gets their vote. If people keep voting for populists and gangsters with empty promises, or not at all, then democracy means nothing.

  • As for AID, our people need to build their own country, not one that is thrust on them by others, even with the best of intentions.
    Social Justice must be careful to avoid this trap. As described by Ms Madonsela, the decrepit sports facility etc brings my point into the spotlight.
    Always remember Mao Sedong and the fishing story, it always applies

  • Wish that we could clone Mr Sooliman. Respect to you, Mr Sooliman, and to all the helpers who work so hard to do what the government fails to.

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