Imtiaz Sooliman: The living embodiment of the Rainbow nation

When times are dark and full of trouble, many people will take solace from the lyrics of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s anthemic Let it be. When the pawpaw really hits the fan though, they will be hoping for the Gift of the Givers instead.

In typical fashion, The Gift of the Givers are already at the world’s latest catastrophe; the earthquake that devastated swathes of Turkey and Syria. They have taken a detachment from the SAPS K-9 unit – and they are already finding bodies, alive after days trapped in the rubble.

It’s amazing, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman not only manages yet again to fly our flag high in foreign countries, stepping in where the government isn’t just scared to go but probably doesn’t care because it isn’t Russia, but also manages to start redeeming the image of the SAPS in the process.

That’s the kind of person he is. Look at the teams he puts together; they’re always like the old SAB beer ads, representative of the full spectrum of the South African society, the living embodiment of the much-derided Rainbow nation. Most of them give up their highly paid, high pressured day jobs to work for free for the Gift of The Givers, whenever he calls.

It’s almost unbelievable in this toxic era of self-absorption, graft and identity politics, but then Sooliman is no ordinary South African. He is the kind of South African that we all aspire to be, the kind of person that Nelson Mandela hoped we would all become to inherit his mantle.

But there’s another aspect to the Gift of the Givers that we tend to ignore: It is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. In the old days, miners would take canaries in bird cages underground with them as an early warning of the highly explosive, but totally invisible, methane in the air. If the canary fell off its perch, overpowered by the gas, it was time to get out – at once.

The Gift of the Givers only intervenes in places that have been visited by almost biblical scale catastrophe; war, earthquakes, tsunamis, plague and pestilence from one side of the globe to the other. Currently it has teams in Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine and Yemen. In Africa, it’s busy in Malawi, Somalia and Zimbabwe.

If you ever wake up to the sight of an arm reaching out to you clad in a green shirt and ending in a sleeve in the colours of the South African flag you’ve either been (a) buried alive, (b) about to die from starvation, (c) delirious from thirst, (d) resuscitated after being caught in a bombing raid or (e) all of the above.

These days, if you’re South African, there’s a big chance you’ve been blessed by those angels in green. Gift of the Givers has been feeding the famished, comforting the afflicted, sorting out schools, refurbishing hospitals and digging boreholes – at an increasing pace.

The government should be ashamed.

The rest of us should be truly terrified at how close the canary is to actually falling off its perch.