MANDELA DAY MESSAGE
Gift of the Givers’ Dr Imtiaz Sooliman: ‘This is the best country in the world’
While he worked at the coalface of the worst disasters to hit South Africa in the past few years, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of Gift of the Givers had a hope-filled message on Mandela Day this week.
“Let me make it clear,” Gift of the Givers’ Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said as he began his talk to a room full of businesspeople, “this is the best country in the world.”
Sooliman has been in and out of Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape in recent weeks as his teams drill boreholes as an emergency measure in a city struggling with political instability and drought.
“Since last year, people tell me that they have lost hope. That there is no future in South Africa. I have seen hardship. What is happening in this country is nowhere near that. Some of our hardships are a blessing in disguise. It will change the way we think,” Sooliman said.
“This is our continent,” he said of Africa. “We have to fix it ourselves. There is a lot of hope in South Africa. We can fix it.”
He said there must be a change of mindset that will allow for quick action to address many of the problems in SA.
Recounting how they were begged for help by doctors during the pandemic, he said they were able to assist at a rapid pace: “Then someone in the Gauteng Department of Health copped on to what we were doing. They came and said we need a memorandum of understanding. I told him: I do not do such things. This is about saving South African lives.
“They tell me I am brutal to the government,” he said, adding, “but the government must understand that this country does not belong to them.”
He tells the story of how, during the pandemic, Gift of the Givers was called to distribute CPAP machines to hospitals around the country.
“Doctors were telling me how people died in the hospital parking lot because they couldn’t breathe… We distributed 900 machines in 48 hours. What gave me hope was that often the CEOs themselves were waiting for us at the hospital. It was 11pm, midnight, and they were there and helped to put the machines on the patients.”
Referring to the July 2021 unrest in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, he said the fact that it didn’t spread to other provinces gave him hope, as did the taxi drivers who said “we will not allow this to happen”.
Sooliman said he has also, since the pandemic, seen a marked shift in the way business responds to crises. “The first guys who called me when the floods happened were the CEOs.”
Speaking about the drought crisis in Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB), he stressed that a situation where people have to queue for water must be avoided at all costs.
“It will be a recipe for disaster, for civil unrest, if thousands of people have to queue for water.”
With scant prospects for rain in the next few months – and if access to the dams are closed due to low water levels – Nelson Mandela Bay will only have access to the Nooitgedacht water scheme.
There is currently only 2.37% of water available in dams. However, the city is still using too much water and the western side will run dry first if it becomes solely reliant on water from Nooitgedacht.
So far, plumbers in NMB have repaired almost 10,000 leaks since June. Municipal plumbing teams are fixing leaks in residential areas with the help of teams from the local business chamber.
Sooliman explained that Gift of the Givers has tried to drill boreholes where communities can access water, rather than having to rely on municipal water collection points. So far, they have drilled 13 boreholes, adding an additional four million litres to the system.
Sooliman said they have strong working relationships with the municipality, the local business chamber and its members. He says this is why his organisation has, apart from drilling boreholes, also organised additional water tankers, many of which have already been donated.
Cerebos, which runs local salt plants, is donating half a million litres of drinking water a day to the city, while Coke has offered three of their 35,000-litre tankers to transport the water.
“Our aim is to put fewer people in the queues,” said Sooliman.
He said they will also provide more water tanks – 500 of which were sponsored by Africa Tanks – at collection points.
Gift of the Givers has also assisted public hospitals in the metro with access to emergency water, should it be needed. DM/MC
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved