God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Scare tactics as the new transparency?

South Africa in the times of Covid-19:
It is amazing: feeling the heat turned up and demanding answers about all the nonsensical decisions of a constitutionally questionable National Covid-19 Command government changed tactics in the communication with “our people”.
Having realised the damage done by scientists of the medical advisory body opening up about being ignored when decisions are made and with this the presidential narrative of scientific reasoning for the lockdown in jeopardy; the Minister of Health resorted to publishing the worst case scenario of another group of academics which created the intended headlines of horror and destruction intended. The small print – that those calculations are based on weak and anyhow ever-changing data – clear to those used to see such analytics – but hidden for the majority of readers was surely mostly not realised by readers in the same way as the screaming headlines.
And obviously the death of a premature born baby with severe lung defections born by a Covid-19 mom again produced headlines of horror; the fact that the survival chance was anyhow minimal besides Covid-19 had no chance against the presumption that now even babies are prone to die quickly. Again a welcome argument spread around by all tabloids in South Africa.

Those interested in politics noted also the absence of Minister Dlamini-Zuma for a Parliamentary Committee question session: she was too busy drafting the Level 3 rules to attend to her duties towards the people’s representation. The message conveyed was how hard at work ministers are.

I have the impression, government changed tactics to convince people how serious the situation is – and I don’t know anybody personally, who would not agree to it. But what government did not factor in in this obvious change of mind is that trust has been massively lost and that changing gear from the extreme of secrecy into a pretended openness is not very convincing neither.

The uncertainty of timelines, the amount of rules not Corona connected, the plight of hungry people, the damage to the economy, the rag rug of drafts, promises, wishes and realities,  the damning Khosa judgement and the promise of splitting the country into different level areas are all fuelling the resentment of people against a national government thorn apart by internal struggles of the ruling party. This struggle is mirrored in the decision-making process.  The impotence of the ruling party of letting go of an ideology not fitting our times any more and the myth of a unified ANC speaking only with one voice  are the ingredients of the decision-making chaos South Africans witnessed the last weeks.

The virus is here to stay – the lockdown served its purpose – government had enough time to prepare.

Now is the time for lifting the lockdown and to put all emphasis of safety measures while restarting the economy and tackling the social woes of this country. And not only the social problems: The mere fact, that breaking the lockdown rules make you a criminal while stealing from the state coffers and being corrupt earns you a place in government or parliament documents what still is wrong in the country. Being part of state capture seems still to be without consequences, while walking on the beach will lock you up in a holding cell. The Covid-19 pandemic again brings also on this level into focus what is clearly not right in our country.

In the current situation, the Western Province is surely one of the best prepared provinces, statistically ahead of other provinces also when it comes to the pandemic itself. And even knowing this one can’t miss out on the efforts of political forces to use this against the people of this province by threatening to keep them more locked-down as other provinces. It is also the province where NGO’s are valued and not menaced to be brought under a strict governmental control trying to monitor and decide on food assistance in a way which will hurt those in need.

Again: now is not the time for political scores or power plays, it is not the time for scare tactics or secrecy; it is time to lift the lockdown and to put all energy into bringing the best out of the people and motivating them to keep safety measures – making it fashionable to care for each other and in doing so, uplifting our society in ways maybe not possible without the virus. Every challenge is also a chance, so they say…

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

Short sleeved t-shirts – as long as they are intended to be used to keep you warm

Madness pure – that is the only description possible following the actions, the South African Covid-19 Central Command – which is not the democratic elected government but an invented structure with lots of constitutional question marks – takes at times.

Yesterday two announcements made this clear again:

Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Trade and Industry published again guidelines what South African’s can buy or not buy. We have had in the last weeks discussions whether roasted chicken, sold in its warm form poses a health risk and the confusion about his directions caused a Woolworth store to not allow for the sale of underwear as they did not clearly fall under the category of “winter cloth”. Out of this sort of confusion South Africans get again and again updated versions of what they can buy or what are existential goods and what government does not allow selling at all. The question of selling alcohol or cigarettes being the prominent ones as they are forbidden under current legislation. Obviously the black markets, often connected to politics, is raving about such decisions and cashing in.

Yesterday, the new list of cloth to be sold was gazetted by Patel, who now determined, that short sleeved t-shirts are only to be sold, if they intend to be used to keep us warm – the official gazetted wording is:
short sleeved t-shirts, where promoted and displayed as under garments for warmth

The new rules apply immediately and are specific to Level 4,so the Minister in the Government Gazette,
It shows to which length national Ministers go to combat the virus.

But competition is not far in finding ways to combat Covid-19: Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, always in military camouflage and the Cuban flag on her beret to prove her socialist military approach to the pandemic said her department would be tightening the screws on organisations who distribute food to the needy. In her view it can’t be that those going hungry are receiving a warm meal from NGO’s or other charity organisations. As there is anyhow a tendency to allow only government (say: ANC) to provide for the needy, obviously the work of those non-profit organisations disturb the picture of only the ruling party provides for the poor and the sick. Plans are to allow for such food delivery for the starving population only with a permission given out by her department. Having in mind that her food parcel delivery plans are often marred by chaos, stealing and non-delivery, this approach amounts to  depriving people of food which translates in keeping people in their misery of hunger and despair.

While Patel’s list has almost a comical stroke and one could laugh it off the plans of Minister Zulu are endangering lives and the very fabric of society. Hungry people have nothing to lose any more and even the military, called to police people will not be able to stop a development bringing South Africa further down. For the sake of those who have nothing – the nonsense has to stop.

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

A new form of state capture?

State capture is defined as a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage. In times of Covid-19 there arises the question, whether not private interests but collective interest of a group within the ruling party significantly influences a state’s decision-making process to their own advantage and ideology.

The installation of a so called Covid-19 Command council, a government grouping which was originally tasked to  deliberate and makes decisions on steps the country should take to manage the pandemic during the lockdown was turned only days later via the Presidency’s official Twitter page into “leading” the response to the crisis. Suddenly a “collective” was ruling South Africa – and during the last weeks, announcements were made only to be withdrawn or changed seemingly at the leisure of members of this council. The rare appearance of the President himself, his soft and moderate approach was often countered by harsh and threatening messages of his own ministers or his co-chair, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The now famous “cigarette selling promise” highlighted the shift in responsibility for everybody to see.

Questions also arose and are not put to rest about the legality of the Covid-19 Command council, but also the way, the entire SANDF was called to enforce lockdown rules, which even the former Minister Trevor Manuel calls in question. It does “not passed the test of rationality”, so Manuel and further: “What you can and can’t buy and so on doesn’t work. Also, the idea that you can exercise only in a three-hour period. None of these pass the test of rationality,” “We need voices to speak to the National Command Council and ask that rationality be the order of the day.”

The attempt to force NGO’s to channel food supply through government – read: through the ANC in most cases – is another sign, that things are not right and motivations have to be questioned. The announcements of various minsters and the president himself of using – or should we better say: abusing the Covid-19 crisis to create a new economy adds to the feeling, that measures taken are not only in the interest of overcoming a health crisis. Limiting possibilities of work for foreigners, demanding a higher percentage for hospitality to open doors again, talking of RET in a time when every business – except the black market for cigarettes and alcohol – is suffering, enforcing BEE on the tourism sector at this moment in time signals intentions beyond health. And when suddenly the procurement of nuclear power comes into discussions – déjà vu is not far away.

The question of the numbers of infections in the Western Province, related to strategy and systematic testing becomes also more and more the taste of a political battle field – veiled threats mainly on social media to tighten the lockdown in the province again and ignoring facts warrants attention.

South Africa needs at the moment the goodwill of all people, it needs transparency and an honest approach to kick start the economy by balancing health and work. We were told that the lockdown has given government the time to prepare for the onslaught of the virus which will happen. We know that a continuation of the lockdown does not serve any purpose in the dense populations of South Africa but only brings our economy further down the drain and unemployment will climb to heights never seen in the country. Let’s not allow a group within the ruling party to jeopardize the progress made and let’s not allow the fragile fabric of the new South Africa been thorn in pieces by the abuse of a worldwide crisis.

 

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

Time to change tune

Listening to Police Minister Cele about non-deserving South Africans, because they don’t behave; sitting through announcements by Dlamini-Zuma feeling a deja-vu of your primary school and absorbing the somehow wicked logic of Patel:
South Africans have to endure at the moment a lot of moments where the good-will of giving time for government to prepare for an influx of Covid-19 cases vanishes with raised speed.
The outcry of politicians following the first 3 hours, where South Africans were allowed out for exercising in the early hours of May first were remarkable. Potentially 58 Million are allowed after 5 weeks of lockdown to walk and jog from 6 to 9 am – parks and beaches are still closed to the public – and those, who anyhow can walk around as it pleases them, are upset about the liberty taken to use the time.
The Western Province government with Premier Alan Winde rightly pointed out that common sense was missing looking at the directive forcing those millions to go out in the dark hours of the morning to get some fresh air.

I have written about the shadows of the past, haunting our present existence, and they explain some of what is happening. Seeing the long queues of people flocking sometimes in the thousands to receive a food parcel is a sign how desperate people are. While physical distancing is in such cases not an option it underlines the situation most South Africans are in at the moment: hungry, without income, depending on hand-outs of NGO’s and governmental agencies.  The pictures we see speak volumes of the dignity lost even more than before the crisis.

Looking at all of this and the mechanisms driving the process there is a real danger that the rule of democracy and its values are eroded. Applying BEE on state assistance, even if after the court decision legally permissible, is such a sign that the very values of the new democratic South Africa has no say any more in the times of need. South Africa indeed has now the taint of being unique in denying assistance based on race. 7 million jobs will be gone if the predictions are correct – and still: ideology trumps any concern for job conservation. This is bad news going forward and it shows lip-service of many politicians when they proclaim that South Africa is for all South Africans.

It is time to change tune: it must be clear that in the new South Africa every person, whose livelihood is in danger,  is eligible for governmental support. And instead of threats and petty rules people should be encouraged to prepare and think of opening up the economy again with jobs saved and new ones created. Instead of scare tactics we need encouragement  and a light at the end of the tunnel, instead of numbers throwing around and unclear data resources we need more transparency and honesty.
The people of South Africa gave government five weeks to prepare for climbing numbers of infections – now is the time to show that they used the time wisely besides fighting cigarettes, alcohol and roasted chickens.

Climbing numbers of infections – often touted by newspaper headlines and politicians as the most important information of the day – are not really news as this is how a pandemic works. The real questions are: How high is the ratio of infection? How many of the infected really need special care? How many tests are done and are we able to identify clusters? I think the Western Cape is on the right track here – testing and catching those in contact with an infected person is the key for opening the economy and providing so for those in need of work and income.

Changing the tune means to stop handing out food parcels and degrading the dignity of people but opening up work spaces again with the necessary prudence – but also knowing, that this virus will stay with us for the years to come – and holding off till the pandemic is gone is simply not an option.
Changing the tune means to take people with you as a politician and not to treat them like school-kids or stupid youngsters. Transparency and honesty is the key – as long as people sense politics behind decisions the goodwill of people will vanish into thin air.
It is not the time for ideology, racism or scoring points – its time for decency, humanity and hard work for the so often quoted “our people”.

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

The shadows of the past come to bite back…

Psychologists can get carried away talking about the shadows of the past – the déjà vu of things coming back and the bible speaks about the sins of the forefathers still haunting the generations to come.
Somehow this came to my mind listening the announcements of the lady, who once fought to keep antiretroviral treatment out of South Africa, then wasted millions of money on a play which never took of in the ages of HIV and now seamingless transitioned into the teacher-for-small-kids-style bearer of bad news, being inconsistent and partly making no sense at best.

The news given came from the “COVID-19 Command Council” – a structure deemed suspiciously absent in the constitution and the laws of the land – created by the President without visible and clear discussions in the National Parliament. In a way it feels like emergency laws of some sorts are back and looking at the divide between suburban with people following the rules and becoming upset social media snitches in WhatsApp groups and in real life while scenes of brutality by law agencies and military in townships even trigger the concern of the UN.  Does that not sound familiar for those living all their lives in South Africa?

And there is the President, sweet-talking once in a while and trying to build momentum for the crisis to be tackled meaningful – but let’s be honest: Don’t come to mind the many crisis commands and war rooms from Eskom to whatever where a certain Deputy President was tasked to solve problems – anyone present to vouch for meaningful results in all those cases?

And last but not least the inconsistency in announcements, the forward and backward within formalising the rules – sold to us as part of the process guided by science and data we were never privy to see – so much about transparency – and in truth the turf war between those trying to abuse the situation for a so-called new economy-not-for-all South Africans, but spiked by race consideration, add RET mixed with socialist and communist recipes – aiming at bringing down a country out of ideological considerations.

So here we are now:
Having been sold a way out of lockdown only to realise that the new rules are again have inconsistencies and partly don’t make any sense.
Jogging outside and walking the dogs is allowed under strict conditions, but please when certainly no sun is shining early in the morning before sunrise – being out in the sun after 5 weeks of been completely locked away would indeed be harmful for health.
A complete curfew from 8 pm – leaving the chefs of the restaurants offering dinner-to-order scramble to clean the kitchen and be home at that time – and giving those delivery-services no time to really do their job – because they have to be home when business is needed to perform: dinner time.
Cigarettes are banned again after being the promise of sale allowed – the black markets are in delight and surely a certain political party too if whispers is to believe that this trade financed political activities and leaders too.

But not all is doom and gloom – some beauty products are now allowed to be bought by the desperate citizens of this country – and personal computer equipment after 5 weeks of digital homeschooling without the luxury of exchanging broken equipment: at least now the broken mouse can be replaced.
People, who were caught up not at home when lockdown was announced have now one opportunity to get home – if and when transport is available. And obviously police and military manning roadblocks are on the newest level of updated information, because that seems to be another constant weakness of the system: the uncertainty and grey areas of what is allowed and what not and the often reported ignorance of law enforcement making up their own rules.

Shadows of the past coming to bite in the current time – Covid-19 is showing clearly how much of the “old” is still prevalent in the country, the system, in the agencies and the behaviour of people. The new democracy has less been embraced than many have thought, the danger and temptation of authoritarian rule  is present and the complete lack of remorse for the years of state sponsored looting and its appreciation when talking about the 500 billion rescue package triggering the fear of corruption doesn’t promise an easy future for South Africa.

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

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