God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Hope amidst failure

There was always the question of what comes first for the President of the ruling party: the ANC or the country?

I guess the last days have shown what it means when party politics comes to the forefront and the country comes second. It was not a social question which triggered the looting and destruction, but the fight within the ANC for direction and power. South Africa became the playground for party politics.

Knowingly, the members of the NEC, mostly tainted themselves by corruption and their likes, waited for too long to act against those, who are clearly and without shame, abused their position for personal gain and power. The “system ANC” did seemingly not allow practical self-reflection and the walk on eggshells when it came to resistance of Zuma, family and friends after the constitutional court judgement made it clear, that not everybody is equal before the law. The unwillingness to handle the situation encouraged those supporting the previous President to even go a step further.
The inability and incompetence of the ruling party and the state has shown when the real looting started was mind-boggling. State security and related ministers showed a clear inability to reign in; video clips on the internet even showed those responsible for security on the ground being part of the looting and citizens realised that if somebody is throwing a burning match into a society marred by poverty and unemployment, there will be a major fire, and you are alone to fight it. Another trauma for the ordinary South African on top of all the others still to be treated and to be healed.

But there is also to report a reaction after looting. People came together to protect their areas, they lent police a hand to be able to stand up against looters, and they started cleaning together: pictures warming the hearts and minds of all of us looking for healing, stability and a non-racist society building instead of destruction. The wave of support for those left without anything and whose business was looted and destroyed shows that there is hope amidst failure, that civil society can rescue and build up, creating a future for all.

South Africa can’t wait until the ruling party gets it right and those really interested in the upliftment of the country are getting the upper hand within the party.

To wait would mean to deny a whole generation the future it deserves; it would prolong the suffering of millions living from government handouts, it would not allow for the educational system to improve and the job market to rise to the challenge of job creation.

South Africa needs in these trying times friends who are not only at its side but also honest in the way they talk, it needs partners who are not shy to speak up and to speak out with compassion and clarity.

South Africa also needs time to reflect where it stands in its build up of democracy and how democracy can work in this part of the world. It needs a real South African way to allow for participation and plurality, so that diversity will be a strength and not a weakness.

And it needs a renewed ANC, leaving behind or better incorporate the past with honesty and striving to be a more open political party having the guts to stop cadre deployment and the delusion that without them, South Africa has no future. Everything has its time, nothing lasts for ever; and every achievement is one day history fading away while new challenges are coming up.

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

When incompetence meets ignorance

When incompetence meets ignorance, normally there are consequences – and the changes in the entry regulations for Germany regarding people coming from areas with virus variations are an example of dire consequences for business people, investors and frankly those in South Africa, who are not able any more to sustain themselves.

Germany has changed the entry rules for mutant variation areas: India, Great Britain, Portugal are suddenly only High Incidence Areas while South Africa, the SADEC region and Brazil remain closed for non-Germans and to add hurt to insult, prescribes 14 days of quarantine without the possibility of early testing to be able to move on.

Obviously, everybody affected is screaming at Germany, but to be fair, one has to take a step back to appreciate the situation in its entirety. One has to admit, that the national government of South Africa failed its people a great deal. The vaccine procurement disaster, the corruption and stealing of Covid-19 relief money, a suspended national Minister of Health and a Minister of Tourism with questionable credentials now running the show, the attempt to use the lockdown to progress on a left ideology and the continued disaster produced on all levels using cadre deployment policy did not and currently does not help to remedy the situation. There seems to be no trust in Europe in the ability of South Africa’s ruling party to contain the virus – and all the nice pictures of Ramaphosa in Great Britain recently can’t change this. Political pleasantries for TV never automatically mean realities behind the curtain.

On the other hand, preventing fully vaccinated people from South Africa with in Europe approved vaccines to travel to Germany and to sentence Germans coming back to 14 days quarantine is clearly not a balanced approach and shows an ignorance which results in discrimination. It does also not appreciate the fact, that measures should be balanced between rational necessities and the freedom guaranteed by the German constitution. Looking at statistics, Germany has meanwhile predominately infections with the Delta variant. To open up for India and Great Britain where this variant is also dominant, but refuse to do the same for South Africa and other Southern African countries has the taste of bias, old school thinking and ignorance.

Even if obviously Germany comes first for Germans, to add to more downfall of the economy of another country – and we have to recall that even when South Africa had an incidence rate of 11 – no South African was allowed to travel to Germany- there should be more considerations and not only lip-service.

The current situation and rules are not helpful, they discriminate against those doing business, having job offers or study permits, they disrupt the lives of many without a balanced approach. They ignore negligently the already dire situation of many living in South Africa and those in Germany who would like to keep a lifeline with this African country.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, SA-German Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

Racist teachers remarks…

It sounds familiar in South Africa: accusations of racist remarks, racist deeds or racist intentions are every weeks’ news: schools, companies, institutions – and this time the German International School in Cape Town.

I don’t want to go into the details of this case but look at it from a different and more general perspective:

Accusations fly – then a broader audience takes part – political organisations join in – protests, sometimes violence, and the at a given point the next location, the next scenario, the next accusations. From outside, very often emotions are triggered without even knowing the specifics of a case. For some, those accusations are a welcome motivation to get into fight mode; for others it is the eternal circle of pulling the race card, when all other arguments are lost and nothing is left than taking out the racist hammer to destroy the possibility of serious arguments and search for the truth of the matter.

Maybe it is time to step back and look at the problem of racism, perceived racism, abuse of racism accusation as a weapon of choice from some distance. If we really want to tackle the problem of racism, but also the problem of using it as a weapon, we have to invent a response which is structured and able to look at a case from all sides. Emotions, protest, placards, violence and political grandstanding are poison.

Obviously this only will work if people are willing to confront, assess, acknowledge the problem and if they are really interested in allowing for healing for the sake of a peaceful future. It demands listening skills, acknowledgement of history and a non-judgemental attitude to allow for this acknowledge and healing process. Add to it an open mind and a caring heart, as well as the social and political will to succeed. It requires a protected safe space to allow for honesty and self-reflection,

But: it really should not be facilitated by politicians or state institutions here in South Africa. It should be far away from political parties.
In my humble view, creating this structured approach is a task, proven and acknowledged churches should invest in and called upon. Here, the sacred space could create a practical tool to allow for the process to unfold. Unagitated, serious and non-destructive, but with the clear aim to learn, to overcome and so to put in pillars for a racist-free society. South Africa will only succeed to create a future for all if we are able to do so – and we could once again be an example for the world.

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

“The Nex” Theology

The Nex - Blessings ceremony
Blessing Ceremony

People of faith think in religious terms, their whole life makes sense in the light of a belief system giving meaning to what they do and how they see life in general. It does not mean to prescribe this to all involved, but it serves as an explanation for motivation, reflected on a deeper personal level. This is a first draft, a first attempt to reflect on the theological meaning of building a campus in Delft / South Africa.

Theological Consideration – first thoughts…

Normally Catholic priests in South Africa are bound to parish life, leading under the authority of a Bishop the faithful of a prescribed territorial area in prayer, worship and charity for those in need.

Running a foundation during the week and only attending to the spiritual needs on a weekend as a supply priest before retirement is already different and for some not fitting the picture of a priest. Building a campus in a gang and crime ridden area is then certainly not their first priestly task and would be seen as extra-ordinary, rather flamboyant in church terms.

And still, I believe there is merit to look with a theological and pastoral eye exactly on this campus comprising of buildings serving in the following areas: Health, Early Childhood Development, Social Services, Youth, Entrepreneurial Skills Development and Vocational Training. Not to forget community uplifting, understanding of democracy and the value of human life and human dignity.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
Genesis 1:31

Having worked in the Delft area since more than a decade Delft mirrors all the shortcomings of the new South Africa, it showcases the lost hopes, the cut-short aspirations, the undervalue of life as such, latent racism and not a lot of those living there would on a daily basis and in their daily life agree, that all is “very good”. Churches of different kinds are spread all over Delft and often for some hours they beam those attending gatherings into a different sphere trying to instil hope for the days to come.

Sermons can be a good tool to inspire but I feel that theology and bible are more than source for fiery sermons, theology – the word of God – must trickle down much more than just in words and charity, it must be felt and walked the talk by development and action on the ground. The word of God must be felt in the trenches of daily life experience for those left out here in South Africa after more than 30 years living in the promised land called the New South Africa.

Theology can also not only be confined in the framework of parishes, formation seminars, theological faculties and church structures – it must cover that “God looked over all he had made” – so there should be room for more than church structures allowing the word “catholic” – meaning covering the whole – universal to be put into action.

Theology must also be able to be applied to what we do and how we act – it should be able to make sense and to bring a greater meaning to our action – it is part of a circle of action – interpretation – encouragement and out of this more, different but definitely better or more appropriate action again before the circle starts anew. At the same time there is no need for religion to capture what is done. There will be different motivations, different ethos and different religious affiliation and convictions of those working together on a project like “The Nex”.  There will be different ways to describe God or the reason for creation, there will be different theologies – and if such a project fosters more dialogue amongst those different pictures without becoming a competition there is another ecumenical and inter-religious meaning in what we do. “The Nex” becomes a place where unspoken different religions encounter each other in a practical way for the better good of people. The blessings ceremony for The Nex – Indawo Yethu  gave witness to intention and prayers when a Catholic priest, a Rabbi, an Imam and a Sangoma not only spoke but brought the blessings onto the new venture.

In the Catholic Church we talk about the “option for the poor” – and again here we are: How easy is it, to establish oneself as an NGO in one of the safe areas instead of going there, where it hurts, where things will on a long run not only run smoothly but hurtles will be encountered, failures will happen and the hardship of life will be mirrored and shared within this project as people experience it themselves every day. Walking together and staying together even if it hurts at times is taking the words “all is very good” almost on a prophetic level: we are not in the promised land, but we have made ourselves ready to walk towards it; together and equipped with hope, love and faith, that we can reach our destiny.

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?.”
 1 Corinthians 6:19

Spiritually is often connected to meditation and prayer, sometimes fasting exercises which indicate that concentrating on the body is an important part of such exercises. Mindfulness towards body and spirit.
I strongly believe that to a holistic spiritual wellbeing health and attention to the body is non-negotiable. The Nex – Indawo Yethu acknowledges this with the offering of health services, linked to social services and the programme of the “First 1000 days” specifically looking at the wellbeing of a human being in the decisive foundation phase of life.

Health, Wellness – mental health and an environment to thrive is so important especially for children and adolescents. Not forgetting those kids with special needs whose wellbeing will be catered for specifically in the Early Childhood Development Centre of the Campus.

Safety is another aspect of bodily wellbeing. The Nex – Indawo Yethu is situated in an area which is marked currently by violence and gangsterism as well as drug-related problems. It is certainly not a safe area, and it was interesting to see and hear, that in the first community participation meeting we had, the question of safety was raised several times: “Are our kids, our youngsters safe on your campus?” Obviously, this is a challenge and if you want the ugly side of business to admit, that security measures have to play a vital role in planning and executing this project. But ones again: the hope that The Nex – Indawo Yethu can be a turning point in moving into a more peaceful future translates a building into a prophetic sign that change is possible and change in this regard is on the way.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, Religion and Ethics, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Travel woes

Trying to travel in the times of Covid-19 becomes more and more a nightmare, especially when you come from a so called high-incidence area like South Africa – where the incidence of currently 11.9 and a recovery rate of over 95% constantly is obviously a major threat to European countries dealing with incident rates average between 100 and 300. It is an interesting experience to be a pariah of the world, only because South Africa did something right – which is seldom enough in our days – namely sequencing the existing virus genomes and making the world aware of a mutation which popped up in other countries as well and threatens e.g. with its 1% occurrence in Germany obviously this country in its core.

Trying to reach Europe from Cape Town is becoming a nightmare: airlines stop flying and entry is practically not allowed for those coming from the danger zone of open restaurants, hotels, shops and with level 1 lockdown almost normal life adhering to hygiene, masks in public and distance keeping.

But seriously:

The Robert-Koch-Institute in Germany keeps South Africa on all danger lists possible since last year – and till now only a court in Baden-Württemberg has dared to state, that this institute has not provided any valid reason for asking local governments in Germany to enforce extended quarantine for people returning from South Africa.

Those daring to fly to South Africa suddenly realise how politics can paint a picture of a country which has nothing to do with reality. Politics, which destroys without any visible regret a very important sector of South Africa’s economy, namely tourism, and pushes the country even deeper into trouble on many levels.

Fear and trying to be a Nanny state dictates currently German politics – add to it the urge to always have a perfect solution for a problem and inventing rules for it, then you have the perfect mix for disaster looming. Listening to those in charge you get the impression that they really think they can beat a pandemic. You simply can’t do this -you have to live with it – and you have to find ways to counter it in a way which balances the freedom of people and the needs of a healthy democracy with the threat posed by the virus.

Looking at the vaccine drives and the distribution of vaccines in the world, there is the other assumption for which Europe is falling: vaccinating their own people first will help. The pandemic is only under control if the virus is kept at bay all over the world at the same time. There is no first winner – even trying to curb travel will not lead to the final goal of co-existing with the virus on a level not really being a threat to humans.

Pandemics are a serious threat for human mankind and the systems, humans are working within; anxiety and fear are definitely not the best advisors nor is it to look only at virology for answers. Social sciences, the psychological impact as well as the economic impact are as important to balance and listen to. Time to reconsider as well as to reflect what governments are obliged to do and where the individual citizen remains in charge of his or her own destiny. Our highly complex societies and their interactions need different answers as we are currently able to give.
And like it or not:
Despite the failure regarding the vaccine story and the attempts to abuse the pandemic for political gains and transformation, for the time being South Africa handles the pandemic better than Europe.

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

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