Western Cape government disputes Gift of the Givers' claims on Laingsburg water crisis

Gift of the Givers head Imtiaz Sooliman. (Jeff Wicks, News24)
Gift of the Givers head Imtiaz Sooliman. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

The Western Cape government on Saturday has disputed some of the claims made by Gift of the Givers on the water crisis in Laingsburg.

Gift of the Givers' founder Imtiaz Sooliman on Friday said the organisation was responding to frantic calls from the Laingsburg municipality, which is currently running out of water, he said.

The NGO has been assisting the municipality in providing water to the area, having also been called to help the drought-stricken Beaufort West municipality two weeks ago.

Responding to the statement, MEC of local government, environmental affairs and development planning Anton Bredell on Saturday said that despite experiencing the worst drought seen in the last 400 years, no town has run out of water.

Bredell said any such claim was inaccurate and has in the past "caused great harm".

"We have asked them not to state such irresponsible inaccuracies as it causes unnecessary panic and concern. We are saddened that yet again this claim is being made."

READ: Gift of the Givers called into another Western Cape municipality as it awaits funding

"The fact is that we have been at pains about water challenges at each inconvenience and what happens is that small towns in the Karoo region rely on reservoirs that are filled with water from boreholes."

Bredell said that during holiday months, when the small towns are inundated with tourists, the reservoirs empty faster than they get filled.

"The result is that there are water shortages at some periods. This is managed with water shedding and other initiatives including providing bottled water.

"To date not a single community in the Western Cape has run out of drinking water despite the worst drought in 400 years."

Bredell added that despite claims by the Gift of the Givers regarding the water situation in Laingsburg, the town has also not run out of water.

"While concerns are mounting, the fact is that the water being mobilised presently is to ensure there will be no water shortages over the coming weekend when traffic is expected to pick up. This is another pro-active measure taken by the province."

Financial dispute

Sooliman complained about unfulfilled financial promises by the Western Cape government and criticised the province for its lack of preparation for the drought outside the City of Cape Town.

"Both these requests came during the time that Gift of the Givers' offices were closed for the December shutdown period. It's the only time in the year that our staff try to get a break but they had to be called back to respond to the crisis.

"What real preparations has the Western Cape government made for the drought outside Cape Town city? Why do the municipalities keep calling Gift of the Givers directly for assistance when they are in crisis? Is there a lack of faith within their own hierarchy to get the job done effectively?" he asked.

He also said that all the interventions made by Gift of the Givers in the Western Cape province has cost the organisation tens of millions of rands, but that not a single rand has been received in funding from the Western Cape government even though it was promised repeatedly in multiple meetings from as early as March 2018.

ALSO READ: Gift of the Givers aims to bring temporary relief to drought-stricken Beaufort West

Bredell also disputed this, saying that the bulk of the water that the Gift of the Givers has been distributing in the province is in fact water that the Western Cape Government has either received via donations or acquired for times of crisis.

He also responded to the claim that the province was not prepared for the drought outside the City of Cape Town.

"At times the province has called on the Gift of the Givers and multiple other partners, to assist with transport and distribution. Where partners are unable to assist, we approach other partners," said Bredell.

"The Western Cape is a large province and the drought still afflicts large parts of the province. The fact that we have been coordinating this massive relief effort with success over the past three years, further shows the Gift of the Givers' comments up for what it is."

Bredell further stated that the Gift of the Givers are not contracted by the Western Cape government, but are welcome to put in a request for funding.

"In addition it must be noted that the Gift of the Givers are partners and certainly do not help in isolation. They are not contracted in any manner and therefore no payment is due.

"They are also the only partner to make requests for money to help. Nonetheless, I am more than happy to assist the institution in this regard at any time as long as it is within the letter of the law and with full transparency of where funding goes and how it is allocated."

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