Tempers flared at a meeting in Bonteheuwel on Sunday called by Gaironiesa Foundation director Shahied Stakala. More than 300 people packed the multipurpose hall, to demand answers from Stakala and Lamy Travel, who have both been accused of misappropriating umrah funds. For the first time since December, Stakala faced the distressed mu’tamireen, ready to tell his side of the story. But for the most part, the highly charged meeting proved to be unfruitful, as Stakala could not give any definitive answers. Visibly stressed and worn out, Stakala make a verbal promise to refund all travellers who had booked through him, but said his “hands are tied”.
“We are now involved in a legal matter with Lamy Travel to get the money back. They have their own version of what happened. Seeing as we did pay the R1.6 million [to Lamy], we need to get this money back. [Right now], we don’t have money to refund people that paid us money,” he told the audience.
Concerns were raised about why Lamy Travel was not in attendance at the meeting. One woman felt that the operator should be held accountable for their dealings with Stakala. Others found it hard to fight back their emotions for what would have been a significant spiritual journey. For them, the sadness was overwhelming and they demanded their money back. Stakala said very little, remaining calm and listening intently to the barrage of criticism.
A traveler named Zubeida said she had called Stakala several times asking for her money. He advised her to approach Lamy Travel as all monies had been transferred to them. She lambasted Stakala, saying she did not want her money from Lamy, but from him.
“You never speak the truth,” she exclaimed.
At this point, it all got too much for one incensed man, who came to physical blows with Stakala. A crowd of people closed in on Stakala, and his inner circle tried to break up the confrontation. He was subsequently removed from the meeting. By this time, many people stormed out, frustrated with his answers. Outside, confrontation erupted amongst members of the public at the meeting. An alim got onto a chair calling for order in the hall and recited Al-Fatihah to calm down the tension.
“I’m not here to defend Stakala. But there were people that came here with the intention of disrupting the meeting. This man’s life is in danger. His family was held hostage and they took 12 of his cattle. If this man’s life is in danger, we need to disperse,” he urged.
Following his plea, the audience agreed to continue the meeting in an amicable manner. One after the other, audience members vied for their turn to take to speak.
Anwar Mohan and Zulpha Salie, representing a group of 41 people that did not depart for umrah, said they paid a total of R600 000 to Stakala. Salie questioned how it was possible that Stakala’s payment of R1.6 million could cover the amount paid for the throngs of mu’tamireen present at the meeting.
According to Abduraghmaan Philips, who departed for umrah with the Gaironiesa Foundation on 24th December, at the crisis meeting called by Lamy Travel two days prior, a list of mu’tamireen that were not subsidized was read out. But on this list were travelers who did not book through Stakala.
“Earlier, they [Lamy] demanded a balance of R2.4 million from Stakala. Fifteen minutes later after the names had been read, they said they had accidently put the wrong names on the list, which amounted to R100 000. They did not even say sorry…”
One speaker who stood up urged Stakala to bring all proof of his dealings with Lamy Travel.
“Go to your bank, get the statements. List all the names of the people who went for umrah and who did not leave. Document who paid, when they paid and whether it was in full. Bring the proof of transfer into Lamy’s account, and we will make the calculation,” he said, promising that a follow-up meeting would be scheduled.
Abduraghmaan Bassadien believed Stakala’s business model left much to be desired.
“If you want to do business, you must do it in a business fashion. Only assist people if you can. In this case, you took on more than you could handle,” he said.
Added to this matter, is a group of clients who paid in full for an umrah trip in March. They were told all umrah arrangements would be cancelled with Lamy Travel. Stakala promised that he would find a different service provider for this umrah group.
Meanwhile, a large faction in the meeting felt Stakala was being made a scapegoat. An elderly woman defended him, saying he was “a good man” that was being made a target.
“We travelled with Stakala and we had no problems. Allah will guide you, Inshallah,” she told him.
Nazeema Kamish said she knew Stakala from an early age and would bear witness to his character. She claimed the community had branded him as a Shia and there was clear smear campaign against him.
“Since he started this foundation, people have targeted him. Why is it that when someone does something good, they target the person?”
The overall feeling was that Lamy Travel had much to answer for and should have been at the meeting. According to Lamy Travel, they were not invited to the meeting. Spokesperson Sheik Faiz Toufy said an official statement would be given once an independent investigation is completed.
For the record, Stakala again turned down VOC News’s request for an interview at the meeting. VOC (Tasneem Adams)