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Muslims step up where political leaders fail the flood victims of KwaZulu-Natal


Dr Imraan Buccus is senior research associate at ASRI.

In the aftermath of the KwaZulu-Natal floods, amid a complete failure of political leadership, residents often turned to their own organisations and to religious groups, not even bothering to approach the state for help.

This past week, more than 2.1 billion Muslims across the globe celebrated Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of the month-long fasting period of Ramadan. A third of that number are from the African continent.

Ramadan is the obligatory month-long fasting period, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The time is devoted to increased prayer, charity and avoidance of immoral activities.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Ramadan was particularly difficult, with devastating floods claiming hundreds of lives. But tragedy at this time also meant a heightened philanthropic impulse from the Muslim community.

During Ramadan and on the day of Eid, many charitable bodies prepare and distribute food to tens of thousands of people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, in KwaZulu-Natal townships. Customarily, hundreds of giant pots of food are prepared for Eid and planning is done with military precision. An army of volunteers signs up for the food distribution.

For Muslims, the act of charity is an act of faith; it is a religious obligation to dispense with 2.5% of your total wealth in acts of charity. This charity is referred to as Zakah. In Muslim countries the charity is collected and distributed via the state. Scholars like Sultan Khan have reminded us that, in South Africa, Muslims have succeeded in preserving this institution in keeping with prescribed religious norms and values over time to benefit both its community and other communities.

When apartheid ended, more than a quarter of a century ago now, there was great optimism that a democratic state would now, as a legitimate entity, be able to gather money via tax and distribute it according to social need. There was a sense that religious and community-based forms of social solidarity would be “small potatoes” in the context of the reach and power of a legitimate and progressive state.

Of course, that hope crashed and burned when Jacob Zuma’s kleptocracy wrecked both the state and our social hopes. Today very few people have much confidence in the state. We see this in all kinds of ways – from declining participation in elections, to the rush away from state schooling, the collapse in confidence in the police, and much more.

It was striking that, in the wake of the floods, which hit informal settlements particularly hard, residents often turned to their own organisations and to religious groups, not even bothering to approach the state for help. People with means also overwhelmingly ignored the state and gave what they could to religious or community-based organisations.

The Muslim philanthropic impulse was conspicuous during the floods, with many people making donations of money, food, clothes, mattresses, building materials and time. It was gratifying to see young people, including teenagers, on the frontlines, along with established activists like the former trade unionist and radical filmmaker Fazel Khan.

Around KwaZulu-Natal, 29 non-profit organisations collaborated, through Muslims for Humanity, to provide aid for victims of the floods. Conservative estimates point to at least 50,000 to 60,000 victims being helped.

The work of Gift of the Givers and its spiritually inspired philanthropy is well known. In addition, organisations like Awqaf South Africa donated R500,000 towards water infrastructure support in flood-stricken areas. The Caring Sisters Network identified the need for blankets and distributed more than 10,000.

As the province is buffeted from crisis to crisis, from riots to floods, in the context of a complete failure of political leadership and widespread disgust at the kleptocrats in City Hall, solidarity across class and creed is a vitally important mechanism to build or sustain some sort of social cohesion.

Community and religious groups cannot replace what could be done with a state with integrity, but they do hold a line in the face of the more or less complete abandonment of society, especially the poor, by the kleptocrats who run the ANC in Durban. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.



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