Donations stream in for Gift of the Givers’ KZN water collection drive
The floods in KZN have left many people without water or exposed to sewage leakages because of damage to sanitation infrastructure. These donations will not only ensure access to drinking water in affected communities, but also enable cleaning and decontamination procedures in hospitals.
Over the past week, the Gift of the Givers Foundation has been collecting water at the Cape Town International Convention Centre for flood-affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The initiative, which began on Friday, 22 April, has already seen five trucks carrying about 129 kilolitres of water set off for KZN. A sixth truck was in the process of being loaded when Daily Maverick visited the site on Wednesday, 27 April – Freedom Day.
A group of Gift of the Givers representatives were hard at work outside the convention centre, packing and loading bottles. Every time a new vehicle pulled up outside the centre with donations, they would converge on it, cheering and singing. Throughout the morning, a steady stream of cars came through carrying 5-litre water bottles to contribute to the cause.
“It’s about the spirit of ubuntu: people in Cape Town wanted to show their appreciation to KZN, to the point that Cape Town became KZN,” said Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, CEO of Gift of the Givers. “And the people in KZN appreciate everything that’s being done; everybody is aware of what’s happening here.”
The drive will continue until Saturday, 30 April. Sooliman said that as word spread about the Cape Town-based initiative, requests came in to hold similar drives in other parts of South Africa. However, the organisation will wait to evaluate the outcomes of the current collection before embarking on follow-up drives.
KZN water crisis
The KZN floods have left many communities without water or exposed to sewage leakages because of damage to sanitation infrastructure. At a water and sanitation “war room” press briefing on Sunday, 24 April, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu shared that a landslide in Inanda damaged two of the four aqueducts that carry water from the Nagle Dam to the Durban Heights Water Treatment Plant, leaving them non-operational.
Damage to wastewater treatment plants and sanitation infrastructure has resulted in sewage pollution flowing into rivers including Umlazi, Tongaat and Isipingo.
State-owned entity Umgeni Water has estimated the total cost of repairs to infrastructure at a number of sites in south, central and north KwaZulu-Natal at about R857.5-million. Repairs in eThekwini are estimated at more than R1-billion, according to Mchunu.*
The water provided by Gift of the Givers will not only ensure access to drinking water in affected communities, but also enable cleaning and decontamination procedures in hospitals, said Sooliman. The lack of water at health facilities has led to fears of spreading infection. Water is also vital for those needing to take medication. Some HIV clinics have reached out to Gift of the Givers seeking access to water and fortified foods, so that their patients can take their medicines safely.
Sooliman shared the story of a woman in KZN who went to identify her son’s body at a mortuary. However, she could not take his body or wash it to prepare for burial, as there was no water. Gift of the Givers is aiming to provide water to the mortuary by Thursday, 28 April.
“This water is not only going [to give people] a drink; it’s going to bring dignity to the dead, to wash them so they can be buried,” said Sooliman. “This is not a small job… this is something. Water is life, it’s dignity, it’s a soul, it’s a spirit, it’s everything.”
The water goes to hospitals and clinics first. Beyond that, a schedule for distribution is made based on the feedback Gift of the Givers gets from its operatives on the ground, as well as from community and religious leaders, security companies, counsellors and businesspeople, said Sooliman.
“I’d just like to thank South Africa, they’ve shown their true character in the way they’ve responded [to the KZN floods]… not only Cape Town, but from all over the country,” he continued. “It’s given the people of KZN a lot of hope. And you know, it gives everybody hope that we can really build this country.”
Gift of the Givers and the Cape Town International Convention Centre hosted an interfaith prayer service in remembrance of those affected by the KZN floods on Wednesday. The gathering was an opportunity to witness the loading of the sixth truck carrying water from the convention centre to KZN.
The prayer service involved contributions by Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Baháʼí and other religious leaders.
“As an indigenous person, when tragedy strikes, we draw and we reflect on our spirituality and the indigenous wisdom passed on by our ancestors. In our beautiful diversity today, this act of compassion takes us back to our original purpose as caretakers of Mother Earth,” said Zebada January, representing the Khoi indigenous people within the interfaith collective.
“Today’s act of kindness, of humanness, extends across the boundaries of provincial, religious, political or colour lines. The ubuntu present today is a true reflection of how we, as guardians and caretakers of this land, should be one beyond culture, colour or religion.”
During the course of the ceremony, attendees could contribute to the creation of a “flower bowl” – a concept introduced by trauma counsellor Ann Paton. The process involved the placement of stones, representing suffering, and flowers, representing the strength and resilience emerging from suffering, in a bowl of water.
“[The flower bowl] is very much around the suffering [of those in KZN] and then around the extent – as you’ll see with Gift of the Givers – the way in which others have come, [to help] each other,” said Paton.
Addressing the interfaith gathering, Sooliman emphasised that South Africa belongs not to the government, but to the people. Corporates and religious leaders have stepped up, he said, and will go together to fix potholes and pipes, as well as pain and hurt.
“Active citizenry. That’s what we are all about,” said Sooliman. “To do things together. We will not be divided by any politician or race or religion or any other issue. And I can tell you right now in KZN, it is one big family: black, white, Indian, coloured, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Baháʼí, all other groups, standing together to help each other. There’s only one language, the language of love.” DM/MC
*This article was updated to correct a factual error on 28 April 2022 at 8.05am.