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IN THE WARZONE

Gift of the Givers shares high praise for South African diplomats’ complicated Sudan evacuation

Gift of the Givers shares high praise for South African diplomats’ complicated Sudan evacuation
Founder of Gift of the Givers Dr Imtiaz Sooliman. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

Many other nationals got no help from their diplomats, says Gift of the Givers. But six South Africans are still believed to be trapped in the war-torn country.

The South African government has received high praise for its evacuation of South Africa citizens and others from war-torn Sudan over the past 11 days.

Gift of the Givers, the South African charity which also played a leading role in the evacuation, acknowledged “the sterling support” of the government in extracting 71 South Africans, seven Angolans, one Zimbabwean, one Basotho, two Americans, four Sudanese and four Palestinians in a complex operation which entailed three busloads of people who drove north to the Egyptian border, as well as others who were extracted by ship from Port Sudan.

Imtiaz Sooliman, who heads Gift of the Givers, told Daily Maverick on Thursday that he was still busy trying to arrange the evacuation of a few more South Africans. They had started the process to evacuate one on Thursday; for another, it could take a few days. 

sudan evacuation kenya

Kenyan evacuees from Sudan disembark from a Kenya Airways flight after landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on 27 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Daniel Irungu)

Sooliman said another six South Africans were believed still to be trapped, but they had not made contact with him or the South African government, who didn’t know where they were.

“We have to get the details, speak to Dirco (Department of International Relations and Cooperation) and see collectively what’s possible.”

SA envoys to the rescue

He had earlier noted in a statement that South Africa’s diplomats had done better than those of many other countries in rescuing their citizens.

“When you witness the thousands of other nationalities stranded at the borders without documents and no consular services from their countries, the intervention of the South African diplomatic service was commendable. They may have been late due to multiple factors beyond their control, but they arrived and battled bureaucracy at the border for hours, not only to gain passage for their own nationals, but also others from Angola, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and the United States.

“We need to give credit where it’s due… disaster management is not a regular everyday activity.”

Dangor, SSA lauded

Sooliman praised especially Zane Dangor, the director-general of Dirco, but also mentioned the State Security Agency, other branches of government “and those individuals who went beyond the call of duty to bring South Africans home under very challenging circumstances”.

sudan evacuation greece

Evacuees from Sudan disembark from a C-130 military aircraft at the Elefsina military airport in Attica, Greece, on 27 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yannis Kolesidis)

“Disaster management is a specialised skill, and, to be fair to those in the diplomatic service, many are not trained in this field,” Sooliman said.

“The events unfolding in Sudan so suddenly and at an alarming pace is emotionally and psychologically traumatic even for the trained specialist. Gift of the Givers appreciates the call from director-general Dangor to participate in the evacuation process and is grateful for the total cooperation from all involved in the chain.

‘No easy task’

“This was no easy task, especially when citizens don’t have passports, cash on hand, no means of transport, are traumatised, emotional and terrified. The situation is complicated by the shutting down of all consular services as a security measure due to the war. 

“Dealing with the foreign service and national security of neighbouring countries is equally complicated in war situations. When diplomatic missions have budgetary constraints, all the costs associated with such an evacuation add to the stress.

“Being Eid holiday in Egypt with government departments shut, flights cancelled, and having to move to borders on both sides of the Nile to gain access to South African nationals, requiring close to 34 hours of travel with complicated rules, bureaucracy, red tape and logistics within the host country, was no mean feat.

“Added to this, evacuees were coming out not only through Egypt, but Saudi Arabia as well. This was a highly complicated intervention that required enormous amounts of backroom diplomacy.”

Earlier this week, Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela praised Gift of the Givers for its effort in pulling off the successful evacuation. DM

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