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‘South Africa is not falling apart’ — Gift of the Givers’ Imtiaz Sooliman tells The Gathering 2022

‘South Africa is not falling apart’ — Gift of the Givers’ Imtiaz Sooliman tells The Gathering 2022
From left: Gift of the Givers' Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, president and co-founder of Abahlali baseMjondolo, Sbu Zikode, Head of general surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital Lydia Cairncross and Maverick Citizen's Mark Heywood at The Gathering in Cape Town, 24 November, 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Can you imagine life in our country without civil society? Civil society organisations play an indispensable role in South Africa; the strength of our civil society sector is immense. Four of South Africa’s leading activists have highlighted the need for harnessing optimism, and the importance of understanding that the country belongs to its people.

“We’ve all come here because we love our country and its people, because we know our country’s in a crisis and because we think there are solutions. But there are people in our country who don’t wait to find solutions; who go out and get into the trenches and try to fix the problems,” said Mark Heywood, activist and editor of Maverick Citizen, during a panel discussion on the new action required when the system is broken, at Daily Maverick’s flagship event, The Gathering.

Hosted by Heywood, the panellists stressed that hope is not lost, and that solutions to fix the various problems that plague our society must come from individuals in every community in South Africa.  

Gift of the Givers founder, Imtiaz Sooliman says there’s no denying the country has been traumatised in the last few years. The Covid-19 pandemic caused major havoc, and fear was instilled in the people of KwaZulu-Natal with the July 2021 riots and the devastating floods in the province in April this year. On top of this, the country has protracted rolling blackouts, and what seems to be a never-ending stream of corruption.  

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

“These are things that have affected us. It doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world or the end of the country,” said Sooliman. 

Imtiaz Sooliman, The Gathering, South Africa

Gift of the Giver’s Dr Imtiaz Sooliman at The Gathering in Cape Town, 24 November, 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“I’ve been to countries where people of the same faith, same religion, same colour, same nationality, have torn each other apart,” he said. “And they’ve tried to pick up the pieces from their hardships and their difficulty. 

“We are nowhere near that.” 

Sooliman emphasised that it’s important to understand that South Africa “is not falling apart.”

However, he said that this does not mean we do not have challenges and difficulties. “But it’s nothing that we can’t fix, and we’ve proven that in everything we do.”

Fixing the public health system 

Our health system is imploding and has been buckling for years. Heywood asked Lydia Cairncross, the head of general surgery at Groote Schuur, if it can be fixed and what the role of activism is in trying to mend it. 

“When you have a society in distress — that washes up at the doors of your health system,” said Cairncross. Part of the reason our health system is buckling, Cairncross explains, is because hospitals are dealing with the effects of a society that is in a deep social and economic crisis. 

Lydia Cairncross, The Gathering, South Africa

Head of general surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital Lydia Cairncross at The Gathering in Cape Town, 24 November, 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“In the winter months we see the victims of shack fires, we see the bleeding ulcers of youngsters on Tik and other drugs, we see the gunshot injuries from the violence happening in our townships, we see the malnutrition amongst our children because of lack of food,” she said.

Read in Daily Maverick: Desperate mom in Nelson Mandela Bay keeps infant alive with cooldrink powder as food crisis hits SA

Under this type of duress, every health system would buckle, and many health systems would break. 

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

But Cairncross maintains that our health system has “tremendous potential”, and that South Africa has some of the best medical and surgical specialists and training programmes in the world. 

“We have a tremendous health human resource”, she said. Fixing the health system requires getting the right people into the right places, and training leaders of health facilities “to make a space for talent to shine through” and to enforce accountability.

“We have the people, we have the passion, we have the talent, we have the commitment. We need to just fix the system so that it can release that potential,” said Cairncross. 

Power to the people

The resounding theme of the panel discussion was that the country does not belong to the government; it belongs to the people living in South Africa. 

“The power lies with the people, not with the political parties, not with the politicians,” said president of the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondol, S’bu Zikode. 

Echoing Zikode’s remarks, Sooliman said that we have relegated the responsibility of the country to the government, but “the country does not belong to the government” — it belongs to the 60 million people in South Africa. 

When we understand this, Sooliman says, “we take ownership of the country.” The solutions, according to him, lie in South Africans’ standing together. 

Solutions also arise when people realise that there are good people within the spheres of government that need to be encouraged and supported, concurred Sooliman and Zikode.

There are millions of people in our country who are denied dignity on a daily basis, through hunger, access to housing, access to quality education. The panellists agreed that the common purpose that must drive solutions to the myriad of problems in our society, “is to return the dignity of people in South Africa.” 

Abahlali baseMjondolo’s Zikode says — government or no government — “we have a responsibility to humanise the world”. Zikode says it’s crucial that in finding solutions together, “the poor and impoverished are not viewed as troublemakers, but positive people who are participating in the constriction of this country.”

Sbu Zikode, The Gathering, South Africa

President and co-founder of Abahlali baseMjondolo, Sbu Zikode at The Gathering in Cape Town, 24 November 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“We want to see a just and equitable society, based on respect and dignity for all.”

There are leaders and individuals with ideas and solutions in every corner of South Africa. Heywood pointed out that we tend “to talk about people, not with people.”

“In some ways — with no disrespect to this Gathering — where are the poor in this conversation?” Heywood asked. 

As a society, Sooliman argued that we need to drive four guiding principles that would save South Africa: “spirituality, morality, values, and ethics.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The parts of SA that are not broken or breaking are by and large the ones run by private sector, not ANC cadres. Until we stop appointing people from party favorite lists and start appointing people based on relevant skills and experience, there is no hope.

    It is very understandable that people that can make a plan are FIRST making a plan for themselves. Sorting your business energy supply is a very big investment, I get why nobody is going to try and sort a community’s energy problems before they have sorted their own.

  • Janine Björkman says:

    We need a new electoral system based on what works best in other democracies. First, the country must be divided into electoral districts, roughly the same number of people in each. Individual candidates, in each district, compete with each other to REPRESENT the interests of the people in their electorate. They must make themselves, their record of achievements and their future plans of action known to their electorate. The winning candidate must have an office in that electorate, always open to constituents to walk in to discuss an issue.

    Voting must be compulsory. As in Australia, we should use a preferential voting system where voters are required to:
    mark a preference for every candidate in their local electorate on the ballot paper for the National Assembly;
    mark a preference for a designated number of preferences on the ballot paper for the National Council of Provinces.
    The preferential voting system used for the National Assembly provides for multiple counts of ballot papers to determine who has acquired an absolute majority of the total votes (more than 50% of formal votes). If the earlier preference means a vote cannot be used effectively, it is transferred to the next most preferred candidate. Transferred preferences carry the same weight as primary votes. Each district elects multiple representatives for the NCOP. Similarly, votes are transferred between candidates according to the preferences marked by voters.
    Counting must be completed that night.

  • Sam van Coller says:

    Frontrunners are driven by power. Leaders are driven by values and ethics. We have many frontrunners and few leaders

  • David Stevenson Stevenson says:

    We dont need no politicians
    We dont need no state control
    Dark Corruption in the councils
    Jobs for buddies, thats the rule

    Policians, leave us folks alone

    Time we got to fix the system
    Do it ourselves and together
    Society, it`s for people
    Fat cats in administration
    Can`t do and should not bother

    Politicians leave us folks alone

    apologies to Pink Floyd

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