Disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers have made the decision to withdraw their presence from the Eastern Cape town of Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown, after assisting the water-scarce disaster zone since February.
This is according to a statement widely shared by Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, who lamented that the organisation leave the area “as a matter of principle”.
This comes after a long battle with government for remuneration for the services rendered to the town.
The municipality requested the organisation’s assistance in providing water supply to Makhanda on February 9, saying that this would be for five days. On February 12, the organisation approached the municipality and emphasised that the extent of the lack of water supply was “far greater than anyone envisaged”.
A quote of R23 million was provided to the municipality, to which it responded saying Makhanda had been declared a disaster area in the Government Gazette, meaning that Gift of the Givers would be remunerated based on emergency funding. Gift of the Givers accepted this, and were assured that they would be paid as funds arrive.
Specialist hydrologist Dr Gideon Groenewald was commissioned to drill boreholes, a challenge considering the area’s geography, Sooliman explained.
Fifteen boreholes were drilled, water was tested, and filtration systems were designed. In addition, Gift of the Givers delivered water to communities by bottled water and water trucks. At this point, they were spending millions, but were essentially working for free.
The department of water and sanitation (DSW) began engaging with Gift of the Givers, and after more than 50 hours of meetings and 13 weeks of expensive interventions for Makhanda, the DSW still hadn’t provided any information on funding.
“A typical case of Nero fiddles whilst Rome burns,” is how Sooliman described the delay.
The straw that broke the camels’ back for Gift of the Givers came on Freedom Day, when the DSW told them to move their water trucks, “as there was no water crisis in Makhanda,” Sooliman said.
Finally, some feedback from the DSW arrived, but not the positive kind. They explained that only companies from Grahamstown would be paid for drought interventions, and that a private consultancy firm would receive R1.2 million for borehole-related work. This meant that Gift of the Givers would not be paid for any of the work they had done in Makhanda for the past three months.
The DSW also said that another company in Grahamstown would receive R7 million for boreholes drilled by Gift of the Givers, and that a third company would be paid R1.9 million for electrical work to connect the boreholes that the organisation drilled at Waainek to the water treatment plant.
“This is R10 million of taxpayers’ money handed out freely by the government to people as remuneration for work that Gift of the Givers did.
“Our hearts are with the people of Makhanda… who waited so patiently for water, but as a matter of principle, we cannot continue,” Sooliman concluded.