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‘We must live up to our image’

South Africans should recognise true potential and learn to understand each other

South Africa has a long way to go in recognising its true potential and living up to its image in the eyes of the world.
This is the view of Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, who spoke at the 12th annual South End Museum George Botha Memorial Lecture on Tuesday evening.
“We are a great country – we just need to understand each other,” he said.
Sooliman, who was once a medical doctor in Pietermaritzburg, said South Africans shared many similarities, but instead focused on the insignificant 10% that they differed on.
He said that during a visit to Turkey he had attended a religious ceremony that was addressed by Sufi teacher Sheikh Saffer Effendi al-Jerrahi.
“In 1986, I met an Afrikaner who was a Christian and he advised me to travel to Turkey to meet a spiritual master who he believed shared the same [psyche] as me. This was my first shock, considering the segregation of the time.
“My second shock was when my wife and I travelled to Turkey and saw a place where people of all colours, races and religious beliefs [coexisted].
“That was when the spiritual master said to me: ‘Mankind is one single nation. The God of all mankind is one, we just know him by different names’.
“The spiritual master gave me words of guidance that I had to carry for the rest of my life as I carry out the task – ‘the best among people are those who benefit mankind unconditionally’.”
And from there Gift of the Givers – named by the Sufi teacher – was born.
Since its inception in 1992, it has raised more than R2bn in life-saving aid for dozens of countries, including Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Today, it has 30 core team members and 124 full-time staffers.It provides medical help, equipment, energy and protein supplements, food and water to millions of people each year.
Sooliman said the gift of giving was inside all South Africans, but they needed to open their hearts and minds.
“Orange Farm [south of Johannesburg] is a place where there are very poor kids. They don’t have shoes, they don’t have jerseys.
“When we responded to the crisis in Rwanda those kids said there were children in Rwanda in more need and they donated R400,” he said.
George Botha, a political activist in the apartheid era, died in 1976, at the age of 30, while in the custody of the security police at the old Sanlam building in Port Elizabeth.
According to the police, Botha fell down stairs, and his death was ruled a suicide.
“Today is not only the annual memorial for George Botha, but I’m also dedicating this lecture to someone very special in my life,” Sooliman said.
“On July 31 1984 my mother passed away at the age of 42 from breast cancer, exactly 34 years ago,” Sooliman said.

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