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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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 sound of silence

I don’t know how you as the reader have experienced the last 14 months – for me, I can say I have had times when silence was the only answer I could give to all the challenges I saw appearing on a daily basis.

There was the challenge of the small little bug threatening to disrupt life in a massive way – so many things we took for granted were suddenly gone – and the freedoms we naturally enjoyed curtailed in ways not seen in my lifetime. And as much as it made sense in the beginning, there was always that voice of concern that democracy and civil rights seemed to be very vulnerable and the abuse of power by politicians a real opportunity.

Covid-19 also was the mirror where humanity could see all the failures, gaps and injustices it got so much used to; the vaccination story tells us about a still colonial mindset on both parts – those in the first world donating freely after securing their very own, but also the begging of African leaders while hiding the failures of their own doing, corruption and incompetence. For South Africans, the Covid-19 story will always be connected to a mind-boggling corruption not leaving out the Minister of Health and the department, tasked to save lives and not to play with them. But also Germany had its scandals in this regard; the temptation of power and money is universal…

Having to travel in the midst of a pandemic and often to deal with unreasonable rules and people, who seemingly have lost their minds in theories on COVID-19 and vaccination defeating any reason and departing from the possibility of meaningful discussion, adds fuel to the challenges on the road. The frustration of people and the trauma caused by all the lockdown rules will accompany us for a long time to come.

As a church person the ongoing discussions over child abuse, the refusal of many within the church to understand the depth of hurt and the cheer unbelievable clinging to power in Diocese of Cologne as an example simply added to the rollercoaster of feelings in the last month. Covid-19 has obviously put churches and their relevance for society on the spot – and we can expect more discussions on this topic as we go forward.

Obviously, as chair of the HOPE Cape Town Trust building a campus in the midst of a pandemic where funders and sponsors are fighting for their own survival has its own challenges; still, I am encouraged by the willingness of many to continue support and to encourage in all ways possible. For me, this goodwill is indeed a counterforce to all challenges mentioned.

The sound of silence – being able to switch of all the noise and to withdraw into the silence of your very own, to listen to the whisper of your inner voice confirming who you are and what you stand for – and what really counts in life – this might be the only point of reference to conquer the challenges of our times.

I strongly believe that you can find a meaning or a teaching or a hint or a message in any situation if you are able and willing to go back to your own roots and convictions. Covid-19 might be a great teacher in this regard. There is a chance that we as individuals come out much stronger than we thought – and this strength can be used to contribute to the well-being of society and humanity.

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

Travelling in Covid-19 times

Queuing for an antigen test is an almost daily exercise

“Yes, a valid antigen test has to be provided every 48 hours”, so the receptionist when I tried to check into my next hotel. “But” he continued, my 24-hour-old test from another province does not count. And no, no room without this test – and obviously I should consider myself lucky that after an 8-hour drive there is still almost an hour to go before the testing centre in town closes its doors and I have to sleep in my car… Lucky me!

Breakfast – well officially business travellers are allowed to have buffet in the breakfast room and tourists not, but I get explained that it is easier to deny everybody the breakfast room – then they don’t have to ask who is falling under which category. Makes sense – and you can pick up your paper back at reception- whatever is in you eat…

Federalism means every province or “Bundesland” does make its own little rules – what is allowed in one city is not allowed in another city; one learns as one goes along. This applies also for the antigen testing: in one city it can only be done via throat swap, the next insists of nasal exploration – and here, where I am currently, both must be done. Not to forget that every testing station has its own system of catching data – and they don’t talk to each other – app spaces are getting tight on the cell-phone.

But besides all this I should be lucky to travel – even I have to admit that it is at times difficult to understand the reaction of my fellow Germans – frustrated by months after months of lockdown, bad weather and closed shops and restaurants. This is changing now: I can vouch that the outside restaurant facilities can be used as a new main attraction – mainly by appointment and with a fresh 24-hour antigen test – and I can tell you: sitting in the rain under a sun umbrella, water slowly congregating where you sit or creeping slowly on head or shoulders is fun – especially if you add wind and cold to it. Yes, Germany has changed….

What frightens me most is hearing about policing each other, neighbours calling the police if you have too many visitors and the divide between those, who obey religiously and those opposing the measures as “Querdenkers” or alike. It almost feels like my travel in the USA during Trump times – a deep divide with no room for the middle ground.

I honestly don’t know exactly what to make out of it – and if there are really lessons to be learned for the future. Most people talk about those lessons – but somehow I have the feeling that everybody is simply yearning for the good old times which ended in March 2020 with the first lock-downs.

Like in South Africa, also in Europe democracy took a hit and the easiness to degree new rules and control citizens is in itself worth a reflection. I guess we all realised how quick in current times liberties can be revoked; hard fought for rights can disappear overnight and how vulnerable our systems are: economically and democratically.

Suddenly, the yellow vaccine passport becomes the new ticket to freedom of movement – and as it is with the so-called “South African mutant” hysteria can cut off people indefinite or put restrictions on them which are neither reasonable nor conductive to human rights and business between countries. There is so much needing more consideration and less anxiety; there is so much which needs adherence to reason and not assumptions.

A last observation is that certainly those who have less in this world are again the losers of the pandemic – inequality remains rampant and the run of the first world towards vaccines while fending off those outside is a clear indication that human mankind continues to fall short to understand, that in some questions and challenges we are all in together as humans.

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

Fatigue and the lack of the art to think long-term

I guess nobody wants to be in the shoes of those in political office when it comes to Covid-19. Even when the theoretical threat of a pandemic was known to academics and politicians alike, Corona visited without real warning – and the Chinese system to hide unpleasant truth did not help in being prepared. Italy paid the heaviest price at the beginning of the pandemic arriving in Europe, but meanwhile many more countries experience what it means if the implicitness of daily life is pulled away from societies.

Of course in the times of social media, we have millions of people who know it better – and whatever politicians say or do, it is wrong for quite a portion of society and pepped up by fake news, ideology and outright concious lying we have arrived in split societies all over the world: those who rebel against any sort of restrictions or even questioning the pure existence of the virus and others on the other margin of society who can’t live without their daily dose of sanitizers on everything which theoretically could bring danger into their homes.

There are also massive failures to be noticed; in my country of residence I could mention :
the ordering of vaccines by the South African government and its non-existing transparency in this regard is an example for failure to live up to the duty of those in charge; there are also noticeable behaviour patterns, which warrant criticism like the visible sheer lust for authoritarian rule as presented by some ministers and the inability of thinking with logic and consistency or deliver the needed services at all.

Globally we see fatigue when it comes to rules regarding restrictions – and the willingness to adhere to seemingly every day changing rules is clearly going down. Generally besides all complexity there is one notion which seems to be present in all countries and societies:
The lack of the art to think long-term.

It does not matter where you look, the four or five years election circles in most democracies have changed the mindset of those in charge – instead of long-term vision there are only short-term thinking having the next voting day in mind – even in non-democratic countries like China there is the tendency visible to act and react rather with short-term vision pacifying people on a certain level. Gone are the days when leaders had real visions bigger than life and certainly their political life-span. Contributing to this short circuit thinking is certainly also the instant “feedback” via social media; the phrase “shitstorm” has entered the realms of communication and decision-making, and it is often not to the benefit of society.

Looking at my country of birth Germany – the currently constant onslaught in headlines promising more lockdown, harder lockdown, longer lockdown as a permanent feature is contrarily to fostering compliance and adherence to rules. The very core of being human: closeness, touch and social interactions are on the list of forbidden fruits in pandemic times – and only measured action and perspective given in positive language will bring people to endure hardship in this regard on the long run. Pushing, threatening, confusing through changing messages will spill back – making up and pretending are the enemies of compliance and peaceful adherence.

A clear indication of the state of mind is the non-celebratory reaction of the advent of available vaccines: instead of celebrating science rightfully for working hard and in short time to bring a solution to the table, in most countries the mourning and questioning of facts and advances is mind-boggling. And it should give cause to serious reflection.

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

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