Johannesburg - For several weeks now, a number of memes depicting Imtiaz Sooliman have gone viral.
The most popular one is an image of Sooliman’s face super-imposed on Captain America’s body, with a caption that reads “Captain South Africa, The People’s Hero”.
As the CEO of Gift of the Givers does not have any social media profiles , he is unaware of the images.
“I have no comment on that,” Sooliman told The Saturday Star this week.
“My instruction was simple and clear. ‘Everything will be done through you and not by you..’ I live by that message. There is no place for ego or self attribute for success, it is all spiritual, I’m only the medium delivering the assistance.”
Sooliman and his humanitarian organisation were once again lauded by South Africans, this time for their incredible assistance during the horrific KwaZulu-Natal floods which has claimed over 400 lives so far.
The humanitarian organisation also assisted in raising over R6.7 million for KZN flood victims together with East Coast Radio.
Sooliman, who was on the ground, said his team had been on hand to help a day after the horrific floods occurred.
“The damage took place on April 11. We received a call from Tongaat at 5am to say that one of the 200 recipients that we assisted with food parcels a week before together with her three grandchildren were washed away in a car. Our team immediately decided that’s where they will start. They navigated the floods, debris, damaged roads and eventually got there.
“The body of the grandmother and two children were found and the third child much later. The mood was sad, people were traumatised and heartbroken. The same people we assisted a week previously were severely affected. These were elderly pensioners who lived in low-cost flats.
“The water rose one metre inside the apartments very rapidly and they had to be evacuated, it was a frightening experience. Most of their material possessions were damaged. We saw the need and said we will return.”
He said his team then returned to Durban to try and assist.
“We went back to Durban and tried to access Isipingo which is normally 15 minutes away. They tried for two-and-a-half hours and couldn’t find a road. They then went back to Tongaat, it was getting dark and risky, distributed the first lot of food parcels to those same pensioners and then rushed to Umdloti with bottled water as people were completely cut off from any water supplies.
“During the day our teams were accessing areas and getting feedback from our networks to areas we couldn't get to given the damaged roads, debris and inaccessibility. We had the whole picture by Tuesday evening.
The organisation provided food for hot meals, bottled water, blankets, mattresses, new clothes, sanitary pads and diapers in several locations stretching from Pietermaritzburg to Umdloti in the North Coast and Port Shepstone in the South Coast.
“On Wednesday, we visited a home in Durban North where a domestic worker was buried under rubble, the boundary wall collapsed on her room. The search teams were battling to find the body. Gift of the Givers arranged one set of heavy equipment on Thursday and then more heavy equipment a few days late. Her body was recovered.”
Sooliman confirmed that they also made arrangements to bring in their own search and recovery teams as more people were missing then they had initially thought.
“Our teams came in from Limpopo, Free State, Cape Town and Johannesburg. They joined KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape Disaster Management, SAPS, fire, metro, EMRS and the K9 teams in one structure in Virginia Airport.”
The organisation also set up a missing persons line.
“It was the only such line in the country. By Tuesday April 19, we had a list of 237 missing, the number increased over the days. In the meantime the distribution to various areas continued.”
Sooliman and his team also began distributing water to various communities and clinics in the province.
“By 14 April, we realised there was an increasing demand for water because the water management system, pipes, filtration plants were washed away or severely damaged. We commenced with bottled water roll-out to hospitals, clinics and communities.”
Sooliman described the floods as the worst flood or any natural disaster that he’s witnessed in his lifetime in South Africa.
“The infrastructure damage to roads, bridges, electrical substations, water pipes and treatment plants, hospitals, clinics, schools, businesses, formal and informal homes has been unprecedented, 14 000 homes affected with more than 40 000 displaced, 435 dead, and 240 known missing (we believe it is substantially higher).
He said the crisis demanded all of their resources.
“It takes our entire staff with the phone lines, email and social media, our packers, drivers from bakkies to superlinks (we have our own fleet of vehicles) additional temporary staff, all the networks with several hundred volunteers in diverse communities, assessment teams, our search and rescue team with our own recovery equipment which we made available to all teams. Our logistics and implementation team and corporate and government relationship teams, were also involved in various aspects. My biggest role is going on site and finding appropriate solutions.”
Asked how the KwaZulu-Natal floods compared to other disaster hit countries that Gift of the Givers had offered their assistance to, Sooliman said : “This is the largest disaster in South African history but the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 was huge, wiped out 250 000 people in 40s.
“The earthquake in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, floods in Pakistan 2010, the Tsunami of 2004, Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines 2013, were unfathomable in destruction and human suffering.”
But where does Sooliman and his team find the strength to keep going and assisting in the manner they have been for many years now?
He said: “Mine is a calling, an instruction from a spiritual teacher, a Sufi master from Turkey, to serve people unconditionally for the rest of my life.
“We see the suffering on one side and the safety of our families comparatively. Out of gratitude that our families are not on the other side (we have assisted 45 countries with R4.5 billion over a 30 year period) and the fact that we have the skill and ability to assist humanity in difficulty keeps us going.”
He also confirmed that the Gift of the Givers are continuing to assist in KwaZulu- Natal and was unsure how long it would take them to address the devastation.
“We are still rolling out thousands of food parcels to schoolchildren and communities, as well as bottled water to schools, clinics, hospitals, mortuaries, old age homes, orphanages, the like, and to communities.
“We are moving drilling teams into Tongaat to drill boreholes (the water system will take eight months to repair). We will drill in other areas depending on the feedback we receive in the coming days. We can immediately bring four drilling machines to start.”
“We will install JoJo tanks where necessary. Schools require stationery, uniforms and school bags for children who suffered these losses. We are providing. There are still requests for blankets, mattresses, new clothing, sanitary pads, diapers, personal hygiene items, we delivering. We are starting to upgrade and renovate schools. Our builders, project managers and engineers have been on site at various schools.”
“As an aside we are going to commence a R40 million upgrade at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital. For this and the flood related hospital and school repair we will appreciate generous corporate participation.
“Clinics have requested bottled water and fortified nutrition for HIV patients. We will be intervening. The entire intervention to make a significant impact in what has been listed above will require an input of R300 million plus R40 million for Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.”
Sooliman said they were also in discussion with the police to fund the purchase of a large number of sniffer dogs.
“The absence of sniffer dogs during the search and recovery mission was impossible to ignore. The SAPS have virtually no sniffer dogs.
“We are also commencing construction of a limited number of formal houses for now. We awaiting government’s decision to see what they going to do with informal housing replacement.”