God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

100 days of lockdown and counting

Here in South Africa we are reaching the mark of 100 days in lockdown; certainly a time to look back and reflect on the result.

The lockdown was introduced for the first 3 weeks to prepare the nation for the onslaught of the virus – then extended 2 weeks further to finalise readiness. Going to lockdown level 4 the first discontent became clear between government and society: rules which did not make sense, authoritarian behaviour of ministers, a National Covid-19 Command Council which defies our constitution, criminalization of more than 200 000 people for “breaking the law” of the lockdown. At the same time a rise in gender based violence and farm murders; and obviously the stealing from government coffers never stopped really and on reflection – and there was more than enough time – it was blatant clear that buying alcohol or cigarettes is more criminal than stealing billions of Rand. The ideology of the ANC government was highlighted by the fact, that the national Minister of Social Development tried several times effectivly to block NGO’s from feeding the hungry and assisting those left behind. Only the ruling party hands out goodies. The latest episode of allowing politicians tainted by the VBS scandal to return to office underlines business as usual.
Arriving beginning of June in lockdown level 3 we see currently that the Eastern Cape and also Gauteng starts to show a lack of preparedness – that all the talk of flattening the curve and giving time to prepare was not used appropriately. The attempt to abuse the health crisis to force ideological driven economic reforms surely contributed to unemployment and poverty. Some sectors like the tourism and hospitality industry is still held hostage by a questionable competent Minister of Tourism and a BEE ideology, which served the few and left the majority in the darkness of poverty.

Covid-19 has exposed South Africa in many ways – the brutality of the military and police in the first weeks of the lockdown left people dead – and the unwillingness of the authorities to investigate reminded many of the Apartheid times attitude. The ignorance of democratic and parliamentary rules by those ruling the country gave witness on how fragile our new democratic system is. The gapes between those with money and those in poverty were exposed in dimensions often only addressed when election time is looming. The attempts to illegally occupying land and the somehow and often brutally looking reaction of the state showed how helpless situations can become in finding a meaningful solution. The mere fact that the Western Province – led by an opposition party –  is without any doubt the best organised province in this crisis, did not really help in the situation as the race question and the entitlement of the ANC does not allow for anyone is better as the liberator turned politicians. Lastly Covid-19 showed how often disconnected politicians are from the reality of ordinary South Africans.

Are there any positives? Indeed, they are: the amount of readiness to assist within civil society was amazing, the partnering of more affluent areas with townships a blessing for many. For those having the permits to go and work the ability to get to and from work without standing for hours in the rush hour contributed certainly to the well-being of the drivers. We learned that lots can be done from the home office, for many, the time of being forced to slow down gave time also for reflection on what is really important in life. The virus taught many a lesson – and the virus was in my humble opinion also a “sign of the times” which I hope churches will exploit more and more. Being not system relevant must have come as a shock for many church leaders, as the insight, that people can live good lives without going to church every Sunday. Worship can take so many forms – and especially for clergy there is much more to reflect on relevance and role in the religious sector.

If we had a government with more common sense and less ideology our lockdown would end and the only reasonable tools would be applied to go forward: wearing a face mask, physical distancing in crowded situations, testing and tracking, quarantine and isolation for those infected. Emphasis would be laid on those measures and our economic would be given the chance to avoid a complete meltdown in many sectors. The message of being together in this and caring for each other could allow for the healing and overcoming racial divides; this virus has not only exposed the weakness of our society but is also a chance which until now not really has been taken up by those entrusted with governing the nation.

South Africa has until now not matched the worst predictions which stood at the beginning of the pandemic. The numbers are still reasonable and some would argue the economic lockdown has more negative consequences than the virus ever can have. The judgement is still out, but looking at the rise of unemployment, retrenchments, closures of business and downgrading of our system the future looks indeed bleak for many haunted by poverty anyhow.

So where do we stand after 100 days of forced lockdown? Opinions will differ on the past – may there be more common sense, empathy  and meaning for the next steps out of the crisis by harvesting more the good things happened in the time of need.

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HIV, AIDS and HOPE – thoughts of a Catholic priest

Being a Roman - Catholic priest and working in the fields of HIV and AIDS in Africa is often a challenge. Living in Africa has also its challenges. On the other hand I feel very much blessed having all the three. So you will find stories and reflections about my work, about the church, South Africa and Africa and essential information and developments in the field of HIV and AIDS. And in between personal stories and thoughts. You are most welcome to leave a comment or to get in touch with me - blogs - "thinking loud" so to speak is a ways of communication and exchange of ideas.

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