God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

A human “mea culpa” needed – and then action

Hurricanes, heat-waves, fires destroying big chunks of nature and habitation in California, Turkey, Greece, Russia and so many more parts of the globe. And looking at Germany, the big floods still are making headlines, destroying the livelihood of so many while having killed others in their way of destruction.

In all the tragedies, with all the sympathies and with not stopping to help and assist those in need and those having suffered or mourning the loss of a loved one or their sheer existence; we have to ask the hard question about responsibility in particular cases and wider scenarios.

I recall as a youngster, scientists left no doubt that the way we treat nature, the way we get closer to the rivers while at the same time straightening them out to serve our purpose, will hit back. We know since ages, the way we live is unsustainable; we know that climate change is happening and will, if not tackle, destroy us as the human race. Earth will not care about it – the small little ball within the universe will continue without us until our solar system will change dramatically in ages to come.

Additional, there is a clear limit to what earth can take on human population – the verse in Gen 1,28 of the bible “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” might find a line drawn into the sand now.

We not only have allowed to continue our path of destruction – millions of people elect and support politicians and leaders worldwide, who simply deny climate change – who simply ignore the well-being of nature for greed and power reasons. And this ignorance is entangled in the whole question of white male dominance, which makes it even harder to tackle. Add to this the birth control debate within, for example, a church with 1.2 billion faithful: then you get a full picture of what we are facing.

Much of it applies to Covid-19 and other virus related incidents, where transition from animal to human occurs. We are all aware that nature has its own life full of bugs, not really hurting their animal hosts. We come closer, we destroy their habitat and ignore their rightful place in our world and force them to find another place to live – with deadly consequences.

We as humans are our own worst enemies – no other creature in this world is more destructive, more ignorant and more willing to go the extra mile on a path which will end with a new dawn without human beings. Those who have the most maybe will survive a bit longer – but all money, all greed, all power of the world will not prevent the final outcome.

The alternative is really to change course dramatically and radically – but not naive, as one hears it sometimes from younger activists who mean good but don’t overlook always the whole picture. But the mix of young and not so young activism with the wisdom of more matured and experienced professionals can open a new chapter for humanity. It can end the “keep it up” strategy and turn lots of words and promises from political and economical leaders into meaningful actions.

We are as humanity in this together – no country can go it alone, no government can solve it alone – which also means to strengthen political bodies like the UN and other international entities. We need a universal “mea culpa” and the intelligence to choose our leaders wisely in this respect. Furthermore, we can’t afford to have those proclaiming their country first, we can’t allow for those more concentrating on stealing from the public purse, and we can’t allow any more for those in charge, who prefer ideology and “the party is always right” instead of a public discourse allowing all meaningful voices to be heard.

And we need the buy-in of churches and religious institutions – make no mistake: Most of them are more involved in the economic deals of current times than we want to admit and acknowledge. Amassing wealth is certainly an important goal of many so-called “prophets” and prosperity churches; and also the mainstream churches are not immune when it comes to investments. Here also, a “mea culpa” would be appropriate and a new outlook needed.

Whatever the future will hold: nobody can say, we have not been warned many times.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Trotzdem” – Hell no!

I guess those living in South Africa feel the rollercoaster of emotions having experienced not only the continuous lockdown related to Covid-19 but also the looting and burning and destruction which marred KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, leading to a breakdown of public order for a couple of days. A state who definitely failed to protect its citizens and only late intervened; ministers who simply displayed being clueless and not up to the task and incompetent added to the concerns many have about the state of affair in South Africa.

From all is clear, that the fight within the ANC party can and will spill over to society and that party politics simply don’t care about the country, willing to hurt and destroy for the sake of winning the battle of fractions within this party.

And even looking at the latest shuffle of ministers in national government – it is playing musical chairs within the governing party but not the coup starting to liberate South Africa from the claws of corruption, incompetence, cadre deployment or their likes.

For somebody building a campus in the midst of a township offering health and education on a developmental path, the question arises once in a while whether this is worth the effort. What can one achieve in a country, where government and ruling party is in battle with itself, where wannabe revolutionaries steer the flames of racism and clearly advocate violence as a political tool; and where frustration, failed education systems and hopelessness lead to more violence, service delivery protests and actions out of anger and bitterness.

The answer to the question is not easy. On one hand, one could pack and walk away. Another possibility is to stay and reason your efforts with the German word “trotzdem“.

At the heart of “trotzdem” is the word “trotz”, which surely is very German; a harsh word meaning defiance; it triggers the feeling and action of “Hell no!” – I will not do it!
It is basically a somehow stubborn or holy resistance – a resistance to accept the doomsday scenarios while at the same time standing up and offering an alternative way into the future. I personally think it is also a theological word, looking how in the bible – especially in the Old Testament – God is described who never gives up on human mankind.

So building the campus “The Nex – Indawo Yethu” in the township of Delft – a place featuring high on the scale when it comes to crime statistics, unemployment and like often in South Africa a lack of decent education – together with many partners and collaborators and investing in vocational training and health holistically is a social, political and theological statement of “Hell no!”

And strongly believing that it is never too late to turn the tide, to stop cutting the corners of development, to cease cadre deployment and corruption and to liberate society from racism and other woes impeding progress and healing. And a perspective for every decent South African who deserves to live in freedom and security. It needs a network of all those small little places of hope and confidence that life has more to offer than what may experience on a daily basis being kept dependent on handouts and charity.


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

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, , , , , , ,

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