Archive | August 2014

South African doctors finally enter Gaza

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

After a month-long bureaucratic battle to enter Gaza, a team of South African doctors yesterday afternoon confirmed it crossed into the war zone via Egypt.

The doctors are traveling with Imtiaz Sooliman and his non-profit Gift of the Givers. The team comprises eight South African doctors and two Egyptian counterparts.

Sooliman sent a text message from Gaza shortly after 2pm yesterday.

He confirmed: “Gift of the Givers medical team has just entered Gaza. The reception from the Palestinian Authority was unbelievable.”

He said after their battle with Egyptian red tape the situation turned for the better this weekend. They struggled since late July 25 to enter Gaza.

Sooliman said yesterday the “whole trip was smooth with total cooperation from the Egyptian authorities, with rapid transit through the border”.

He said the Egyptian ambassador in South Africa, Sherif Naguib, assisted the team. They were now waiting for a cargo plane stuck in Macedonia to deliver their medical equipment, medical supplies and an ambulance. The total value of this is R15-million.

“With his (Naguib’s) assistance we expect our cargo plane and supplies to arrive tomorrow (Sunday),” said Sooliman.

Naguib yesterday also confirmed Sooliman and his team had entered Gaza via Egypt’s Rafah border.

This followed extensive delays, including redirecting Sooliman’s cargo plane to Khartoum and then Macedonia last week.

Egyptian authorities had granted Sooliman and his team permission to enter Gaza last week. But when they arrived in Cairo on Wednesday they were told they could not enter.

Naguib said yesterday: “It was very simple. We conveyed their needs. The Egyptian authority responded. We saved them a couple of days.”

He said they managed to get through to the “relevant authorities” on Friday, even though it was the weekend in Egypt and all public offices were shut.

“We just managed to bypass the bureaucracy. We wanted to help speed it up. Normally when you get confirmation you need to get it on paper. We got it straight from the authority,” said Naguib.

“Hopefully within the next 24 to 48 hours the cargo plane will be in Cairo.”

Naguib said the process to date – before they “managed to bypass the bureaucracy” – “took a bit of time because of paperwork”.

Nelson Kgwete, spokesman for the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco), said yesterday’s entry into Gaza was “facilitated through our embassy in Egypt”.

Egypt requires all foreign donor and humanitarian agencies to apply for entry into Gaza, through its Rafah border, via its relevant national government department.

Kgwete said Dirco has “been working with the doctors and facilitating their movements”.

“We facilitated their mission through diplomatic ties. We will remain in contact with the team and we are ready to assist them with whatever they need,” he said.

Sooliman’s wife Zohra Sooliman, co-founder of Gift of the Givers launched in 1989 in Pietermaritzburg, said she lost contact with her husband after he told her he had passed into Gaza.

Weekend Argus also tried contacting Sooliman and two other doctors on his team, but could not get through to their mobile phones. This newspaper had interviewed Sooliman on his mobile phone when he was still in Cairo on Friday.

Zohra Sooliman said: “Signal is probably a problem in Gaza”.

“The last message I got from Imtiaz was at 2:40pm. That’s when he confirmed they were in Gaza. I sent him a text message at about 4pm and there was no response,” she added.

Sooliman said her husband told her “many Palestinians were waiting on the Egyptian side to enter Gaza”.

She could not confirm how long the team would stay in Gaza. She said a second team would likely travel to Gaza after this team returns.

“The plan was for the team to stay for ten to 12 days. They have gone in late and lost two days working time. To get in is such a mission so they will stay on longer if they can, if the team agrees,” she said.

“We would send a second team if the border between Egypt and Gaza is open there.”

Sooliman said this team was far fewer than the amount that travelled to Gaza with Gift of the Givers in early 2009.

“There was going to be about 40 specialists who were going to go this time. Egypt only gave permission for ten. But at least ten people were allowed to go,” she said.

“Whoever has gone there will become like the 40. We believe they will have the stamina to do the work of 40 people.”

Sooliman said she travelled with her husband on his last trip to Gaza in 2009.

“When people in Gaza see an outsider coming to them it makes them believe that they have not been shunned by the world. They are remembered and not forsaken,” she said.

“If I talked to Imtiaz now and asked him what it’s like over there I know he would tell me despite the destruction the spirit of the people would not be destroyed. That’s indestructible.”


Experts question Brics bank benefits for South Africa

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

While the South African government plans to invest US$2-billion in the new Brics bank, industry players this week questioned whether it would benefit the local economy.

The political bloc comprising Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa (Brics) plans to launch its New Development Bank (NDB) within 18 to 24 months.

Each nation would be a founding member, investing an initial US$2-billion while holding in reserve US$8-billion if needed.

Banking and regulatory insiders this week gathered at the UCT Graduate School of Business in Cape Town for a panel discussion unpacking the NDB’s shortcomings and possibilities.

The new Brics bank should fund Africa’s development projects, said a panel at UCT this week. From left, Mills Soko from UCT’s Graduate School of Business; Michele Ruiters from the Development Bank of Southern Africa; and Peter Draper from Tutwa Consulting. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

The new Brics bank should fund Africa’s development projects, said a panel at UCT this week. From left, Mills Soko from UCT’s Graduate School of Business; Michele Ruiters from the Development Bank of Southern Africa; and Peter Draper from Tutwa Consulting. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Peter Draper, director at Tutwa Consulting which researches trade and investment policy, said the NDB “will not be democratic”.

“The main reason for setting up this bank is because the (global lender) World Bank is not democratic. But the NDB has fewer members than the World Bank. Also it has two members that are not democratic, China and Russia,” said Draper.

“Foreign policy is driving the bank. It’s about South Africa getting closer to China. But this bank is not the way to get closer to China. We can do that with bilateral relations.”

Draper said the South African government could invest US$2-billion directly into the African-based bank if it was really interested in Africa’s growth.

“If we say we are in this bank to fund African infrastructure projects, why not invest in the African Development Bank?” he said.

“The money (we invest) might go to India. And taxpayers need to know where our money is going. That US$2-billion could go elsewhere. We need a lot of money for development at home. The Brics bank won’t give us those funds.”

Draper added: “It provides a new source of funding but we are not sure where that funding is going. It’s not clear what’s in it for South Africa.”

Michele (CORRECT SPELLING) Ruiters, a strategist at the Gauteng-based office of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, said the NDB signaled “extra capital coming into Africa”.

“We need to make sure the shortfall needed for Africa’s development projects comes our way,” said Ruiters.

She said the bank could fund development of the “basics: power, water and sanitation”.

“Water in Africa is going to become a political issue, if it isn’t already. We need to finance water. The private sector will not finance the provision of bulk water to communities,” said Ruiters.

“We need to find ways to fund infrastructure. The days of asking for development assistance are over. I’m hoping the bank would be a way of finding that assistance.”

Policy frameworks could be a stumbling block though, she said, as Africa for example “doesn’t even have a single public-private partnership framework”.

“Everything needs to get into place. We need to get the institutional arrangements sorted before we get excited,” said Ruiters.

“South Africa has always been punching above its weight. We are the most diverse economy on the continent and our finance institutions are very strong. We have a role to play. Our position in Brics is important but we need to bring our partners in, like Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.”

Andile Kuzwayo, the national treasury’s Brics director, asserted South Africa “will benefit from this bank”.

“We will engage it as a shareholder and borrower. We will also derive benefits from a more developed Africa (as a result of the bank’s loans on the continent),” he said.

Kuzwayo said South Africa needed the bank’s loans because its “budget is inadequate to build our infrastructure”.

“We want to get money to build. We also want to enhance investment in Africa,” he said.

“The World Bank says US$96-billion is needed every year to build infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa. We are raising only half of that. This bank can fill that gap.”

Kuzwayo said the NDB would only offer loans to “Brics countries, emerging economies and developing countries”.

He cautioned: “No country will dominate. There will be no privilege access (to loans). It will be a democratic bank with sound principles.”

Mandela, Gandhi’s parallel lives focus of new exhibition

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

The parallel lives of iconic leaders Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi will be showcased alongside each other in an exhibition launched in the city yesterday.

Mandela Gandhi, which runs at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre in Buitenkant Street, looks at similar “principles of peace, truth, nonviolence and reconciliation” of the two men.

The exhibition notes informs that viewers “would be surprised at the number of times Mandela and Gandhi’s lives run parallel”.

The shared values of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi are the focus of an exhibition at the District Six Musuem's Homecoming Centre. Both leaders spent time in Cape Town and fought against oppression. Picture Supplied

The shared values of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi are the focus of an exhibition at the District Six Musuem’s Homecoming Centre. Both leaders spent time in Cape Town and fought against oppression. Picture Supplied

“The times they intersect they are based on the situation of that time and region. The exhibition outlines the development of their moral fibre and how the core principals of leadership are the same between the two leaders,” it continues.

Its curator Birad Yajnik said yesterday the exhibition consists of the “making of Mahatma and Madiba, the transformation, the legacy of 144 years and finally parallel lives”.

He said the four installations that form the exhibition “uses the latest digital technology along with rich media content to deliver a user experience that engages the visitor”.

“A real time quiz challenges the visitor, while collections from the archives of India and South Africa intrigue,” said Yajnik.

“Videos of the great icons commenting on similar subjects a few generations apart show how parallel their thinking was. It’s a modern digital experience with wisdom of the past that can help the future.”

Yajnik used 21 digital applications to “engage a visitor for over 45 minutes”.

The exhibition also showcases Mandela’s “connections with India, his visits and the emotional connection with Indian people”.

Yajnik added: “It will outline Mandela’s inspiration from Gandhi and how the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence helped shape his own transformation and adoption of the values of peace and reconciliation.”

District Six museum director Bonita Bennet said the exhibition chose to host the exhibition as it was a “space dedicated to the many stories which make up humanity”.

“The exhibition gives us further insights into the lives and values of two people who are recognised in all the far corners of the world. The stories of their lives illuminate to us the possibilities that we all have to do good,” said Bennet.

In July, Gandhi’s granddaughter Ela Gandhi, who lives in Durban, held a commemoration event for the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s departure from South Africa to India. The event was held at St George’s Cathedral in the city.

The exhibition is a collaboration between India’s high commission in South Africa, the national arts and culture department and India’s culture ministry. It is part of the year-long Festival of India in South Africa and runs until September 14.

Heritage resources agency responds to allegations, criticism

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Claims of wasteful expenditure at the seemingly troubled South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra) are false, said its council chairman yesterday.

Chairman Fanie Makhanya was replying to a report in Weekend Argus last week which stated that Sahra was wasting money. These claims were based on interviews with staff and reports over the last few years from the national auditor-general.

But Makhanya defended their expenses, particularly the recent purchase of digital tablets mentioned in last week’s report.

“You write about Sahra allegedly ‘wasting money’ on the purchase of electronic tablets for the 11 members of council. This is false,” he said in a written response.

“Council regulations authorise the purchase of work tools to empower council members to carry out their duties. Due process was followed to solicit quotes from suppliers, for the supply of these electronic tablets.”

He added: “Sahra identified the need to reduce escalating costs associated with the printing and courier of large volumes of documents for its council members. The use of tablets is of financial benefit to both Sahra and council.

“The fact that less paper would be used for the compilation of council packs is also an environmentally-friendly benefit. The tablets remain the property of Sahra.”

Makhanya defended Sahra’s decision to employ as chief financial officer Catherine Motsitsi. Public protector Thuli Madonsela had in her investigation found that Motsisi approved an expense towards President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home.

Madonsela’s report states Motsisi approved an expense of just under R40-million.

Makhanya said: “Motsisi was but one of many officials interviewed as part of the public protector’s investigation.

“The public protector makes no allegations against Motsisi, neither does the public protector recommend any steps to be taken against her.”

Makhanya said Sahra’s “accidental payment has been corrected” in relation to rental paid for Motsisi and its former chief executive Mmabatho Ramagoshi.

The auditor-general said rental for the two at Mandela Rhodes Place in central Cape Town was “not valid as it constitutes an additional benefit over and above the amounts agreed to in the employment contract”.

Makhanya said: “Accommodation was paid by Sahra over and above an allowance that was already part of Ramagoshi’s salary package… Policy was not contravened. In fact, a clerical error was discovered which was rectified.”

Staff allegations of inappropriate appointments and nepotism were also dismissed.

Makhanya said allegations that a “top manager employed a relative in a mid-career management position at Sahra… is false”.

“The two individuals share the same last name; this does not constitute a family relation. They are not related,” he said.

“During the interview process, the human resources manager disclosed to the selection panel that he and the (successful) applicant had worked together at a previous employer.”

Sahra’s former chief executive Peter Mokwena, who resigned earlier this month, was also not “frustrated and suffocated”, as staff claimed, said Makhanya.

“Mokwena disassociates himself with these comments and sentiments. He is completely satisfied with the manner with which Sahra dealt with his resignation.”

Staff earlier this week picketed outside Sahra’s office, alongside members from the National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu). They demanded an investigation into Sahra’s expenditure.

One staff member told Weekend Argus yesterday they were “intimidated” this week following last week’s report in this newspaper.

“The council called staff into a meeting. They said if staff are working against them their future inside and outside of Sahra might be comprised,” said the staff member.

“That is a direct threat against job security. Staff is feeling intimidated. The council knows staff is giving the media information.”

Egypt blocks South African humanitarian mission en route to Gaza

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

South African doctors on a humanitarian trip to Gaza are stuck in Cairo and have called on locals to put pressure on the Egyptian embassy to help their mission.

The team of eight doctors from across the country and two Egyptian counterparts are travelling with local non-profit Gift of the Givers.

The latter’s founder Imtiaz Sooliman, speaking from Cairo yesterday, told Weekend Argus of the Egyptian government’s red tape that has bungled up their efforts to assist Palestinians.

Egypt’s local ambassador Sherif Naguib said the group could enter Gaza by this weekend though. He also downplayed Egypt’s bureaucratic delays.

Sooliman’s public campaign launched yesterday is a rare move. He usually does not engage in direct action aimed at the governments in countries where his agency’s humanitarian missions travel to.

“Please call the Egyptian embassy and ask them to allow this group to enter Gaza… Egypt denied us entry into Gaza after everything was approved before we left South Africa,” was his call yesterday.

Sooliman and his team landed in Cairo on Wednesday. Their intention is to assist Palestinian civilians injured during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge since July 8.

Sooliman said they applied for clearance to enter Gaza on July 25, with Egypt saying then “it would take five days to get done”.

The Egyptian government controls entry into Gaza via Rafah, its border city with Gaza. Sooliman said Egyptian authorities told him to apply via the national department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) to the Egyptian government for permission to enter Gaza.

“The Egyptian government was told that this is a humanitarian issue. We told them our government right up to the president (Jacob Zuma) and the entire country was behind this mission,” said Sooliman.

Egypt said the non-profit should provide it with a list of goods it wanted to take into Gaza. It also had to supply a list of names of all the persons it would travel with.

“We told them we needed to have a civilian cargo plane to transport an ambulance, medical equipment and medical supplies, all worth R15-million,” said Sooliman.

“We also wanted to travel with 39 medical staff and 14 media representatives. We submitted all the information and names.”

A number of delays ensued as Egyptian authorities needed more information and “clearer copies” of the various passports and other documents, said Sooliman.

“We waited and waited. By late August they said we have approval. They said we have permission to take the plane, the ambulance, equipment and contents and only ten personnel,” he said.

With approval granted, Sooliman this week authorised a private company to transport medical supplies to Egypt via air travel.

“While they were flying they received a message from the Egyptian aviation authority which said the plane could not land in Egypt. The permit to land in Egypt was withdrawn. They had to land in Khartoum,” said Sooliman.

“There was a big emergency. Dirco had to call the Egyptian ambassador. The plane then flew to Cairo airport. Eventually the plane had to leave to Macedonia where the (flight) company has an office.”

Sooliman said the medical equipment, supplies and ambulance were off-loaded in Macedonia instead of returning to South Africa. Macedonia is less than three hours by air from Egypt.

Sooliman now needs to apply again for a permit for the plane to deliver goods to Egypt: “The application for the permit has recommenced.”

His team is also waiting for confirmation that they may enter Gaza.

“When we left South Africa we were under the impression we had permission to go through. When we got here we were told we don’t,” said Sooliman.

“We don’t understand. There is a ceasefire and the border is open. We had permission but we can’t enter when people are in need of help. Egypt is deliberately delaying us. They need to answer why.”

Naguib said yesterday: “There was approval for the humanitarian assistance. Before it can get to Gaza it has to go through the north of Sinai (in Egypt) which is a war zone. We still have to give clearance for the convoy to travel there.

“To cross the north of Sinai and then to Rafah (the border with Gaza) they will have to get clearance from the authority concerned. We are working on that. It will probably happen in the next 48 hours.”

Naguib said the Egyptian government still needed to “provide clearance for the shipment.”

“We would aim to respond as soon as possible. We are not making difficulties. We are helping the people in Gaza,” he said.

Dirco spokesman Nelson Kgwete said they would “only have more details on Monday”.

Other international aid agencies have reportedly struggled with Egyptian authorities to gain access to Gaza.

The Middle East Eye and international news agencies reported incidents where the Egyptian military prohibited humanitarian caravans from entering Gaza.

Sooliman said Egypt prohibits humanitarian agencies from taking “money, building materials and fuel” into Gaza.

Human rights icon Desmond Tutu’s life depicted in new film

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s life as an activist for human rights has for the first time been documented in a film debuting in South Africa next month.

The documentary film, Children of the Light, “depicts the personal story of Desmond Tutu from an obscure township in Klerksdorp to courageous leader in our struggle for freedom”.

Peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

The film’s director Dawn Gifford Engle, from the United States, first screened the film at the Monaco Film and Television Festival in June.

Engle said Tutu “has been a part of my life for 20 years now as a mentor and a role model”.

“He was the priest who married me and my husband and always challenges me to give the very best that I have to give,” she added.

“It has been an incredible honour to be able to capture his spirit, essence, and cutting edge work in the world in our new film.”

She said Tutu was an example of “what a life well lived truly looks like”.

Tutu, 82, is known worldwide for his outspokenness against discrimination. For his efforts, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

The synopsis for Children of the Light says it focuses on the “crucial role Tutu played in bringing about the peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa”.

“Searing images from his life, from the struggle against apartheid, and from the heart breaking yet inspiring truth and reconciliation process in South Africa will move across the screen as Tutu leads us on a journey back in time,” it continues.

“The film will then take us around the globe to see the work of five young activists and leaders who were inspired and formed by his example, and who are now creating social change in their own communities.”

The five activists are based in Peru, Burma, East Timor, India and South Africa.

“The film ends with Tutu sharing his reflections on what it takes to create social change in the modern world, based on the hard won wisdom of his own life… as we see images from the South African struggle, and other struggles for social justice and human rights around the world.”

Engle said the film includes “footage we have filmed over the past 18 years, as well as extensive archival footage and stills, and never-before-seen family photos”.

It also features letters from the new book Tutu: The Authorized Portrait written by Tutu’s daughter Mpho Tutu. Tutu’s other daughter Naomi Tutu narrates the film, which features “leading scholars and experts on the South African struggle”.

Lavinia Crawford-Browne, spokeswoman for the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation organising the screening, said the film’s launch coincides with their tenth anniversary.

Crawford-Browne said the film was essential viewing because Tutu has “been airbrushed out of our history by the ANC”.

“This film clearly shows the immensely important role he played in the 70s and 80s and his contribution to our nation. It is also an inspiration to youth,” she said.

Children of the Light will screen at Artscape Theatre on September 7 at 6:30pm. Tickets are available via Computicket.


Legendary singer Vusi Mahlasela uses his voice for equality

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Grammy-nominated singer Vusi Mahlasela’s voice has reached millions worldwide and when he performs in Cape Town this weekend he wants to use it for “equality”.

Mahlasela is set to perform at Artscape Theatre on Sunday night, headlining a concert for local non-profit Equal Education.

Vusi Mahlasela sings in Cape Town for education. Pic from Artscape Theatre

Vusi Mahlasela sings in Cape Town for education. Pic from Artscape Theatre

He said he wanted to use his voice to “create awareness of injustices and work for peace”. Over the years, the singer has been known simply as ‘The Voice’.

“I have a voice and it comes with a lot of responsibility,” he said.

“I like to do a lot of charity shows. I did a charity show in Durban for autism and now will work with Equal Education. I want to lend my support to anything for equality. It’s the right thing to do.”

Mahlasela said he wants to encourage people who come to his concerts “not to be afraid to criticise the government and people who are not doing things right”.

“I’m not a politician but a musician. We are there to be like watchdogs and promote the spirit of ubuntu which is about morals,” he said.

He added: “ We still have the rich versus the poor. We need to bridge the divide. Education should be equal so that we can have great leaders. It is sad to go to schools that are dilapidated.

“This was also my experience when I grew up in apartheid. We still have the same situation today and it’s not right because we have democracy.”

Mahlasela’s charity efforts are not keeping him from touring though. Mahlasela plans to tour for three weeks in October with musician Hugh Masekela in the United States.

“When we perform at Carnegie Hall in New York we will be joined by Dave Matthews. Our tour will celebrate the 20 years of democracy (in South Africa),” he said.

“We are going to do another tour in February next year with Hugh in different cities.”

Apart of multiple local and international awards, Mahlasela has also solidified his academic track record with an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University last year. He has also been awarded the Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks professorship at Michigan University in the US.

Equal Education’s ‘Say Africa! Say Education!’ concert on Sunday night will also feature local bands The Muffinz and Driemanskap.

It will “provide an opportunity for those attending the concert to learn more about the South African education system” via exhibitions and students involved in the non-profit’s work.

Equal Education said it is a “community-based organisation”.

“Its members are predominantly high school students who meet weekly… They take action to improve their schools, and their efforts have in the past secured textbooks, libraries, school infrastructure and improved teaching,” it said.