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Gift of the Givers’ Imtiaz Sooliman warns of malnutrition crisis in SA, calls for cohesion, ubuntu, sacrifice

Gift of the Givers’ Imtiaz Sooliman warns of malnutrition crisis in SA, calls for cohesion, ubuntu, sacrifice
Dr Imtiaz Sooliman spoke at the Nelson Mandela University Business School on Tuesday. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The founder of the humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said on Tuesday night he was convinced South Africans could save the country, but the restoration of people’s dignity would be crucial. Sooliman warned of a national food crisis, saying in provinces such as the Eastern Cape it had become ‘normal to starve’.

‘South Africa needs cohesion, ubuntu and sacrifice,” founder of humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said on Tuesday evening at the Nelson Mandela University’s Business School in Gqeberha.

Sharing his own spiritual journey leading to his founding and running Gift of the Givers, Sooliman remarked:

“A unity of spirit is what South Africa needs today. It is our mission to be the best, not because of ego but because human life demands our best… the best in ubuntu and the best in human spirit,” he said.

His lecture was also attended by the provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Nomthetheleli Lillian Mene.

“This country will fall apart if people lose their dignity. There is no limit to what humiliated people will do,” Sooliman said.

Food crisis

He warned of extreme food shortages in the country.

“Hunger won’t cause an uprising. People in South Africa are very patient and very resilient. It has become normal to starve in the Eastern Cape.”

He said his organisation had begun distributing eeZee paste, a therapeutic food supplement to help children who are on the brink of developing severe acute malnutrition.

“We brought in 15 shipping containers, worth R25-million, of this supplement. All donated from overseas… why can’t we do that for our children here in South Africa?” he asked.

Recounting the work of his organisation worldwide, Sooliman asked: South Africans can bring healing and save the world. Why can’t we do it in our own country? We have everything we need. Why can’t we do it?”

“We have an endemic problem,” he said. “We must break it. We must stop seeing race and religion. We must notice the humans.”

He said that while helping in Niger in 2005, as the region was gripped by famine, he was struck by the spirit of selflessness in the community. He recounted how, when they arrived, the elderly and young adults alike gave up their chance to receive medical help so that the children who were dying of malnutrition could get all the help they needed.

“Not one elderly person came to ask for help. It was the supreme sacrifice. They all wanted us to save the children. I will never forget it. When we didn’t have enough food parcels, they shared among themselves; they didn’t fight each other.”

People first

“That is what we need in South Africa,” he said; “Civil servants must realise that they owe their allegiance to people and not to a political party.”

Sooliman said while his organisation was distributing food in Nomzamo in the Strand during the hard lockdown in 2020, the police came to warn them that people had to head back to their houses.

“But we were not done. I said no. I don’t care what you do, but we are going to finish giving out this food,” Sooliman said.

“That man himself called for reinforcements to help us. When we finished past midnight the police took the elderly people home. The one lady told us, ‘I am going to wake up my grandchildren when I get home.’

“Why, I asked her,” Sooliman said. “Why would you do something like that?”

“ ‘They haven’t eaten for three days,’ she said, ‘There was hope in their eyes when I left.’ ”

Sooliman said they had distributed 1.4 million food parcels during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When we got to Peddie, a mother told my team that her children were eating plants to survive.”

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But it is a boy who came to ask his team for help during 2020 whose words remain with Sooliman:

“He came to ask for some food. He said he won’t eat much, but he hoped he could take some food home to his family.”

“That child became a symbol of what we should be,” he said.

He said South Africans should take a stand and stop allowing political parties to cause conflict, racism and discord.

“We must take ownership of this country… we must take hands with good people in government. Everyone is not corrupt.”

“There is no need to leave. If we had survived 1994 we can survive anything,” he said.

Sooliman added that resilience, ubuntu and forgiveness would carry South Africans through.

“We must restore people’s dignity. No ego. Just humans. We will save this country and we can fix it,” he said. DM/MC 

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  • Barrie Lewis says:

    “… her children were eating plants to survive.” Cohesion, ubuntu and sacrifice lie at the centre of food security. And teaching people to grow and eat plants. Green beans, potatoes, mealies, pumpkins and spinach with the odd egg and glass of milk would save our children. But do we care? If fear not. It’s a spiritual issue and the powers that be have become overcome by greed. They simply don’t care. If they did, they would have done something by now. Watching the people of the Eastern Cape starve hasn’t moved their hearts one iota.
    South Africa needs politicians with the heart of a Sooliman in government.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Perfect opportunity for the DA to take a leaf out of Sulimans book and engage proactively with the people of the Eastern Cape. The ANC’s failure will be used by the EFF for votes…the DA needs to get actively involved now….Biz SA could get involved financially by backing any project that can help eliminating the ANC and EFF from using this opportunity to further entrench themselves and destroy this country!

  • Wendy Annecke says:

    I think the message is it that it is up to each one of us to act rather than blame ‘them’

  • Sam van Coller says:

    Government has not the will or ability to respond to this challenge. It is an opportunity for Faith groups led by Gift of the Givers to establish a private sector food aid programme to eliminate malnutrition in five years. Love your neighbour

  • Riaan Oosthuizen says:

    I am in full agreement with Dr. Sooliman. We need to take action and look beyond our differences. It is really sad to see such potential in our country being wasted and lost.
    On the 25 containers of eeZee Paste, I need to point out that the donation was not from overseas, but from a small organization based in Muizenberg. Apart from the 25 containers that was donated to Gift of the Givers, they also donated containers to Ladles of Love, Breadline Africa and many other smaller organizations.
    So, the spirit of giving is in South Africa it just needs to be directed through avenues with credibility, such as Gift of the Givers. I think anybody that is willing to assist, wants to be ensured that their offering reaches the intended goal and not disappear into pockets of those that do not need assistance.

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