Some of South Africa’s biggest companies have pledged millions of rand to help fund a prominent charity’s response to deadly floods, highlighting the government’s shortcomings when it comes to managing and dispensing relief.
The Gift of the Givers stepped in to help those affected by the floods and landslides that washed away roads, bridges and thousands of houses in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province and elsewhere last month. Its efforts were praised in the local press and on social media, and an influx of donations followed.
More than 60 firms, including Standard Bank Group Ltd and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd, were among those to step in.
The leading role accorded to the charity is indicative of the challenge president Cyril Ramaphosa faces in convincing the public that his administration is intent on cracking down on the corruption that became endemic during his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule.
Trust in Gift of the Givers is not “something that was achieved overnight,” its founder Imtiaz Sooliman said in an interview. “People have seen our action for the last 30 years but they’d taken more note during the time of Covid.”
During the pandemic, the charity aided more than 200 hospitals, dispatching personal protective equipment and locally-produced breathing aids, funding triage tents and setting up testing centers.
The government’s response was clouded by revelations that billions of rand were squandered, a communications contract was awarded to close associates of the then-health minister, and top officials in the central Gauteng province benefitted from procurement deals.
Ramaphosa acknowledged that the government faces a trust deficit, enlisted an independent organization to help manage state funds allocated for flood relief and ordered real-time audits of the expenditure.
“It is a great source of shame that when this disaster struck, the most burning public debate was around fears that the resources allocated to respond to this disaster would be misappropriated or wasted,” he told lawmakers last month.
Gift of the Givers maintains an excellent relationship with the government, which has lots of good people who want to make positive contributions in times of need, according to Sooliman.
“Their systems don’t make it possible to respond urgently,” he said. “They have the right intentions but they’ve got the wrong systems.”
Africa’s largest independent humanitarian organization, Gift of the Givers secured its first financial support from South African corporations in 2017, when a deadly storm hit Cape Town and its surrounds. Donors are issued with audited financial statements, reports and pictures, which has helped build trust in the organization, Sooliman said.
A medical doctor, Sooliman founded the charity on the instruction of a spiritual leader he met three decades ago while visiting Istanbul to “unconditionally serve people.” Since then it has distributed R4.5 billion ($281 million) in aid across 45 countries, he said.
Besides providing relief in Africa, it has given humanitarian assistance to those affected by wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan. Of its almost 500 full-time staff, about two-thirds are currently based at Syrian hospitals, and it’s also working with volunteers in Ukraine.
“To us, to save one life is to save the whole of mankind,” Sooliman said. “That’s our philosophy.”