God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Balance is needed and realities appreciated

It is said that in South Africa, it is difficult to find middle ground – it is either black or white, laissez-faire or authoritarian, and looking at measures taken in the country it seems to confirm this observation. Stringent and harsh measures were announced and tried to enforce in the last days leaving behind those whose life reality is so different from those who try to prescribe them. So we saw in many township communities chaos on Friday, the first day of the lock-down: people still had to go to the shops because only when they are paid, they can go shopping. It was clear that government simply forgot to factor in reality.
Videos of aggressive reacting military without any possibility to identify them; police ordering people out of their own yard into their house with doors closed and so demonstrating that they did not understand the rules neither but also township residents defying orders and calling Covid-19 a white man’s disease demonstrated the gaps in dealing with the crisis. On the other hand: it is indeed an overwhelming task to get all citizens to understand the seriousness of this challenge.

Obviously too harsh measures will backfire – and it is noted that e.g. the sale of cigarettes is now allowed in supermarkets – there is no meaning in keeping a smoker 21 days without cigarettes and expect him to feel relaxed at home during lock-down. Government must and should fine-tune measures, but obviously having problematic ministers like Cele running partly the show will make this a challenge for the nation. Especially in a township environment where people really have to struggle every day to survive measures must be coherent, but also understandable and manageable for those living there.
In a situation like ours it would also be good if the President himself is able to reassure the nation on a regular base – people here simply listening rather to him than to compromised ministers or head of departments. State capture has destroyed quite some trust into state organs and this should not be underestimated. It also has widened the gap between those who have or are in charge and those whose life has not changed a lot in the last years still remaining under the poverty line.

There is another aspect which seems important – giving out the figures of confirmed testing does only tell half of the story as we know the virus can come and go without needing hospitalization.  We need antibody tests to find out how many people are already immune and survived the virus without major consequences.  We know that children and younger people are less likely to develop tough symptoms. So knowing the infection rate, but also the immunisation rate can give important indications for the future handling of the pandemic.  It also helps to give people a perspective of what to expect in the next months to come. As important the update of current status is, important is also to give citizens a realistic hope and with that a goal to achieve jointly as society.

Finding a balance after a good start, appreciating realities and work with them – we will see what the next days might bring on fine-tuning measures, transparency in communication and also some more training for SAPS and SANDF so that the service with humility, the president spoke about, becomes a reality. In days like these citizens put their trust in government by allowing the curtailing of civil rights – alone this must be reason of careful consideration how to progress in the fight against Covid-19 in South Africa.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

The danger of being authoritarian

Whoever watched yesterdays press conference in South Africa, where ministers outlined the response and rules of engagement during the 21 day lock-down might have now second thoughts about the events unfolding. After two presidential speeches from Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded in bringing across a coherent and logical response to the Covid-19 challenge, most ministers did not really show the same amount of compassion and sense for realities.

Remarkably some minister clearly showed signs of enjoyment being in charge and feeling in charge. Incoherent information unfortunately did not improve the situation either.
Keeping people apart can be done in different ways – and South Africa choose the method of lock – down. This in itself is not wrong – a tool of virus confinement used also by other nations. The example of Jordan comes to mind when looking how far and how restrictive measurements can be before people will start to rally against them. There is a fine balance between getting it right and going too far.

In a country like South Africa a buy-in of the population is a necessity to get the answer to the Coronavirus right. Understaffed police and military will not be able to control the masses if there is no goodwill amongst those being governed. Townships are not easy to control and the 21 days without income for so many is hardship not easy to endure if you have a family.

It has to be seen how things develop after midnight – the last 24 hours have been clearly an example how far away some political officials are from real life experience. It was also clear to see how split the ANC is between those understanding democracy and the care for those governed and those rather interested in the ideology of a party and power play. South Africa’s lock-down can be the salvation in the pandemic, but only if there is a clear balance between what is really needed to stop the spread of the virus and what is over-reacting for reasons far beyond necessity.

Democracies – especially in the times of such challenges – are in danger of losing out the freedoms they are supposed to guard and guaranteed. The feeling of citizens of being at the mercy of a pandemic can become a breeding ground for those politicians who have not captured and internalised the values of democracy. It is a temptation – and one has to watch out especially in a country without a long track record of this form of government.

 

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

HOPE in the times of lock-down

Since yesterday evening it is official: South Africa will go in a 21-day lock down from Thursday night and all non-essential work will cease, freedom of movement is suspended and police and military will have a watchful eye that all rules and regulations are adhered to in the weeks to come.
For an NGO like HOPE Cape Town those are difficult times on several levels:
Firstly our medical staff will continue to work and give their very best to battle the pandemic and see patients; exposing themselves to the risks of being infected. A constant worry for those responsible in the organisation which otherwise also has to shut down so-called non-essential services. Obviously our definition differs from the one the law prescribes: knowing how much people in various townships depend on assistance it is sometimes difficult to imagine how those less fortunate survive in even more dire circumstances. Believe it or not: this adds to the stress level of those who are not allowed to work in the fields as HOPE Cape Town employees.
And there is a third level of worries: the financial ones. Obviously in this crazy time many people and companies are struggling to keep themselves afloat – donating to a charity is the last on their minds which results in major income losses for NGO’s. And unfortunately, no state has yet acknowledged those financial woes, only companies for gains will receive government assistance. We will see quite some charities closing their doors because the lack of funds, we will see lots of retrenchments as a result of lock-downs and other measures, which mean to save societies from a high number of infections and mortality.

HOPE Cape Town tries to mitigate all negative factors and has till now always found a way to survive challenging times. Even in the times of Covid-19, which is unprecedented the organisation will be able not only to survive but to continue it’s much-needed work medically during the crisis and socially after the lock-down. Obviously it welcomes donations via its web page www.hopecapetown.com or any other sign of solidarity.

Codvid-19 shows us, that we are all in the same boat – that we are part of something much bigger we as humans can only master in parts. It is a strong reminder that the power of humanity has its limitation and that human mankind might have forgotten about it. Economy alone and constant economic progress is no salvation, but becomes part of a problem as shown by a small little virus shutting virtually down this world as we know it.

Covid-19 can be a game-changer of our mindsets, it can make us more aware and more humble, it can point out the faults of our societies and it can raise an awareness, many NGOs embody in their daily work. We as the human race owe each other, and we owe creation in a much deeper way we normally realize. Time to readjust our awareness – a lock-down time is not only a challenge but also an opportunity to reflect and to do better afterwards. Not because we are scared, but because we have learned something for life. And in doing so, we create hope in the times of a lock-down.

Filed under: Africa, General, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , ,

Covid-19 warriors

Judging social media it seems that quite a handful of people are sitting in ordered or self-imposed quarantine and favour the social media world with their plights, tribulations and realizations – like warriors in a battle, not shying away from posting all the horror headlines and predictions making their sacrifice of self-containment even more worthwhile. Watching streamed TV from Germany every real and wannabe star feels the urge to post videos with the “I am ok” messages as if the world is really desperately waiting for it.
It reminds me of the many World Aids Conferences, where the only badge to wear and being applauded for is for many speakers to be HIV positive.
I never got it, and I am not sure I get it now.

We know that 60-70% of the population will be infected by the virus and for most of them, it will be like the normal flu or even less, the virus will pass by – especially young people and this might be the blessing for South Africa. A different story are the elderly and those whose immune system is already strong compromised – and here solidarity is needed to protect them. But is this not something what should be normal to do? Without big words and gestures?

As Africans, the principal of ubuntu, the knowledge that there is a dependency which grants life to be lived to the fullest spells already out to have that practical compassion and avoid any situation where the most vulnerable are being brought into the danger zone. Here again, this African spirit of connectivity could be an example for the rest of the world demonstrating values which might have to be gained and learned again in other countries. The implicitness of solidarity and compassion is a gift this continent, which produced the first humans could pass on to the world.

Covid-19 is a chance to get back to our roots of humanity – and the pure fact that normal human behaviour has to be pointed out – or even in Europe more and more enforced –  shows how much the world has lost its moral compass. Covid-19 will come and go – and it is up to us to learn the lessons provided to us – every threat is also a challenge. So let’s pass this test, score all positive points possible and together make the world a better place.

 

Filed under: Africa, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , ,

Observations in the times of Corona

Amazing times indeed – having to cut short a 4-week trip is something one does not do light-hearted, but the ever escalating events and restrictions are of a level never seen in my lifetime.

Pondering for days to cancel the US part of it – and then decision taken out of my hands by the US authorities. Meetings cancelled and those still happening are at distance – 1.5 m and no physical contact allowed. And don’t cough when in public spaces: anxious eyes are immediately following you, having identified you as the source of the closer coming infection. Business people with suit and surgical gloves are interesting trend setters – and the everywhere mask which has a zero effect but a feel good component of “I am doing something”.

In Germany there seems to be the threat of no toilet paper palpable – and noodles – not sure how this goes together, but I am still investigating the mysterious link between the two. Airlines change flight times and cancel flights on a regular base – it is almost triggering unease when leaving Berlin this morning and everything was done in time without changes.

But serious: I see this experience as a very healthy one – it cuts you down to normal seize again and it is hopefully a lesson for human mankind, that we are part of something much bigger, but not the masters of the universe or at least this planet and this creation. The situation gives us the chance to readjust our value system and recalibrate what is important and who is important in our life.

Nor political or financial system is able to overcome such a reminder of humility alone – we are all in the same boat – and while many display symptoms of either pure ignorance or great panic – disseminating all info on social media without even thinking to use brain cells – there are the first signs of a change of hearts and minds: “Entschleunigung” is one of the German buzz words – going slower, having more time to think and to reflect, having more time for family and friends, rediscovering values and appreciation of those around us. We need each other – we are not competition but in it together. I guess especially the latter is more a lesson to be learned by the European and US American population. We Africans might be able to contribute our “ubuntu” to these new discoveries – in a new way being heard and listened to – and not only laughed at as those having missed the bus.

Corona is a lesson to learn – and I can only hope and pray that human mankind comes out of this crisis more humble, more considerable and more decent – paving the way for more humanity and a deeper sense of being – being part of something bigger we all strive to understand in one way or the other.

We are all on the way – the mystery of where we come from and where we go to still remains and all the bugs, all the bacteria and virus are part of our journey. I am sure it all will make sense at the end…  but for the time being, I am happy just to acknowledge that the mere fact has unsettled our way of living, our way of working and the way we see and experience the world.

Filed under: Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , ,

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