God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Germany “im Herbst” or the 50 scare…

When you ask ordinary citizens, nobody really knows – but the number is omnipresent: 50 followed by 100 000 and 7 days. And the number determines the colour red, present on every map beamed into the background of the newsroom of every TV sender. And there are clearly panic signs visible in the presentations of all the premiers and politicians – dancing around a bushfire triggered by a second wave of a small little virus conquering the world again.

Hectic decision-making, a forward and backward: the accommodation ban for people coming from so-called “red” areas declared, withdrawn, insisted on and declared invalid by courts is only one example of triggering confusion among ordinary people who had prepared to go on local holidays; local holidays which they have been asked for by the very same politicians: don’t travel abroad, stay home.

Germany is a federal state – and the effort of the German chancellor to give citizens a uniform set of rules has been without success in the last weeks – every state has still its own rules written down in lengthy paragraphs – and travellers like me have to study hard to understand how many, how often, how far, how allowed or forbidden certain activities are….

I don’t hear other parameters which would give me more insight into reality: How many people are really sick, how many people are really in their infectious phase – news anchor do highlight the fact of many more testing compared with the first wave, but it remains unclear this is only to comfort the masses or what it really translates to in meaning.

Conspiracy theories continue to raise their ugly heads and obviously the forward and backward has eroded the public trust into those in power; a situation sounding familiar looking into South Africa, from where I travelled to Germany a couple of days ago. It becomes clear, that our systems and our politicians were not prepared for a scenario, every one should have known it will come as history shows and scientists predicted.

The general crisis of humanity triggered by the digital revolution and the advent of social media has found a sparring partner in the pandemic to kick the confidence of human mankind of having all under control out of the window: We are all part of an evolutionary fight for survival and our systems have developed huge gaps which we can’t hide anymore.

It is a wake-up call to return to humility, to simplicity in a certain sense, to a realistic view where human mankind really is standing and a clear indication, that we have to reflect on our place within creation. The way of communication and governance, environmental questions and generally how our systems work and whom we entrust what kind of power are topics to be discussed in time to come. The virus also has taught us that we are indeed a global village and that any attempt to proclaim “our country first” is outright stupid and not constructive, but destructive on all levels.

Where from here?
Uncertainty all over the place – honest awareness of where we stand as human mankind in this pandemic and the realisation of the mere fact, that only a fair balance between state power and individual responsibility can move us out of this mixture of distrust, helplessness and incapacity to find the perfect solution everybody will be satisfied with.

And there is again nagging another question: If the virus would only have shown up in Africa, or only would have taken possession of a certain population – how would it have played out?

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

Roma locuta and other anxieties

Roma locuta causa finita – Rome has spoken, the discussion is over, so goes the proverbial attitude within the Catholic Church pointing out that the final verdict in the Roman-Catholic church always is a Vatican located one. Rome is speaking a lot in our days – be it about the synodal process in Germany, be it about the Synod of Trier and its decisions, be it on valid baptisms and other theological matters.
And looking also across the aisle into the political and social arena to the floods of words on social media, spearheaded by a twitter-happy Donald Trump, the armies of automated bots and paid pen or keyboard holding soldiers, one can drown in the flood of words and verdicts, of opinions and analysis being encountered opening the email box, social media or news outlets.

And in so many cases, be it Roma or the warrior behind the keyboard, it seems that whatever is said or voiced carries often the smell of eternal truth, to be defended and backed up either with dogma or ideology depending on the arena it plays out. Strength and power are on display, conviction and verbal muscle play.

I don’t know, but in a world battling to understand the blessings and curse of a digitally connected world and a human race being challenged to either develop or to disappear, I see tons of anxieties hidden behind the just described scenario of current times. And this in turn leads to the yearning for leaders who clearly define black and white, good and bad, right or wrong to make it easier to navigate through a time when nothing seems to be fixed and everything flowing.

And it does not matter which arena you look at: the religious, the political or the social; be it values or certainties of the past: the philosophical concept of Heraclitus called Panta Rhei seems scary to most fellow humans. And Covid-19, the invisible small little bug has doubled down on those personal, social and political uncertainties, fears and anxieties. It has led to more conspiracy theories, which in turn have garnered more disciples from all walks of life and killing rational thinking and common sense on its way.

The human race is at the moment running in a proverbial hamster wheel fuelled by all those anxieties, refusing to stop in its track and just taking a breath and break. And maybe even pay attention to a writing, which was signed in Assisi last week: Fratelli tutti, the third encyclical of Pope Francis which is much more than a letter to only the faithful. Together with Laudato Si and the Abu Dhabi declaration on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together there is a treasurer of wisdom to be found to escape all those anxieties and grandstanding and false religious and political prophets and rabble-rousers of current times. I would add to this the world ethos concept of Prof Hans Küng to cover most aspects of what has to happen to give the human race a fair chance for survival on the long term.

There are many voices of reason – even some coming out of Rome – the question is: will they succeed in being listened to?

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

Level 1

178 days, 15 hours and 59 minutes exactly is the South African lockdown old, when I write this paragraph – and we finally – since midnight – are on level 1. For many it is time to celebrate “almost freedom and normality” and for others the danger of a vicious circle starting with too much freedom while Corona is still threatening the lives of people.

Whatever it is – taking in the news from all over the world with all the horror news and predictions or the promises of a better future and new insights: this day might be a good day to reflect on the last months; the good and the bad.

And yes, there is certainly also some good to reflect on: the speed of life has indeed dropped dramatically and many people had time to not only spend it with family, but also to think about life, humanity and the role, everybody is playing in this big game called life within the universe.

Some are left with anxieties – being forced to confront oneself and the loved ones is not always only a pleasure; realising how vulnerable one is and that all perceived safety nets can collapse has brought one or the other to stand in front of own limitations. Being helpless against an invisible enemy has its challenges.

Covid-19 has also exposed all weakness of society; in South Africa old habits were visible within military and police and government often showed a real disconnect with society; authoritarian habits and the abuse of power for ideological purposes came to the forefront. South Africa was not alone, quite a lot of politicians worldwide used – or let’s better say: abused the situation for non-health related matters. And this in a time, where social media giants like Facebook and Twitter are becoming a danger for truth, awareness of reality and democracy as we know it. The gap between poor and rich has been clearly visible and in many countries, poverty, hunger and desperation has increased.

A very complex situation indeed, but also a chance for human mankind to reflect on its status and interconnectivity with “Mother Earth”, as she is often called; and the meaning of life and its perspective related to cosmos and universe, to faith and values attached.

It will be seen whether human mankind learns out of it; it will be seen whether societies will strive to be a better sounding board between us humans, serving the purpose to foster peace, reconciliation and life to the fullest for as many people as possible.

Covid-19 has mirrored us as individuals, as members of society, as social, religious and political persons a lot of true colours; the question is whether we are able to act on it or just try to go back to the good old ways.

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

Don’t crack down on dissent – have a plan and show it!

The fallout of comments made by members of the South African ministerial advisory committee MAC was to be expected – Minster Dr. Zweli Mkhize wasn’t happy and the reported heated exchange leaves the need to little fantasies about tone and emotions during the last meeting.
Obviously a government with a president claiming to follow sound and best advice of the very best academics the country has to offer cannot be happy, when the very same experts question the rationale of decisions made.
We are dealing with a health crisis – so the advice of health experts is of utmost importance – it seems that the political ploy to use this crisis for political gains and the dissatisfaction of “our people” led the academics to the conclusion that they will be blamed for the dire situation instead the politicians in charge of all the hardcore decisions; be it the ban of alcohol and tobacco sale, be it the never ending discussions about what a person is allowed to buy and what not in our times.

For me it is encouraging that those academics who are indeed known for their expertise and listened to at many conferences see finally also the need to speak out and not keep silent about the madness of regulations we are showered with – changing almost on a daily base. I guess the frankness of Trevor Manuel was one of the encouraging trigger point for them to speak out – and they said actually nothing what we did not know – they spoke common sense:

It is a health crisis – and instead of getting imprisoned in stages and rules and fine-tuning of rules there are some facts undisputable and determine the way forward:

  • Government asked and got 5 weeks to prepare for a virus, which will not stop even during lockdown to spread.
  • South Africa with the dense township population and the amount of people living in poverty or on a daily or weekly salary or allowance cannot adhere to Western measurements of e.g. physical distancing over a long period of time.
  • The impact on our economy is almost killing our system – the attempt of some in national government to change the system abusing the crisis is simply not acceptable.
  • We have to live with the virus for a longer time to come – so all public health measures should be – next to screening and testing – the focus point of all governmental efforts. Companies, NGO’s and all other in the working field should get all resources to remain on top of the pandemic and to function as safe as possible.
  • Military personnel should assist in opening field kitchen and field hospitals to assist our weak health system.
  • Parliament must regain oversight control over all the measures again – this is a time parliamentarians have to come together for the greater good of South Africa regardless of political creed.
  • Assistance must be made available to all South Africans – Covid-19 is also a chance to feel that we indeed are all in it.

A clear and transparent time table is needed to open up the economy while using all energy to bolster further our health system and get more testing and tracing done. We can’t live from President’s speech to President speech – expecting afterwards again a change in rules.
Honesty and the willingness to share all information, to explain the steps taken and the attempt to regain the trust lost in the last weeks will go a long way to beat this virus here in South Africa. We don’t need any ideology at the moment, no political grandstanding but humility and decency from those making decisions. No Cuban flag, no camouflage, no finger up in the air, no threats, no kindergarten teacher attitude but clear, sustained smart steps coming out of a common consent that we are all want to beat this little bug in a way, that makes us stronger and more resilient in the future.

 

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

“Month-to-month phasing-out of the lockdown has no basis in science”

I think, clearer than in the headline of this blog one cannot point out, that the level-phased lockdown has no room in the minds of scientists. And this verdict comes not from somebody hardly known but from Dr Glenda Gray, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) and chairperson of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). She is a specialist paediatrician and HIV vaccine researcher. She was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2017 and  received South Africa’s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe.

She is one of the great academics, President Cyril Ramaphosa says he bases his decisions on, when it comes to Covid-19. Which obviously warrants the question whether he means what he is saying or whether in the top secret meetings without minutes – so indicated by Minister Dlamini-Zuma when asked about the ban of cigarette sale question – those opinions count nothing against the ideology of hard-liners within the Covid-19 Command which, by the way – suddenly extends to the whole cabinet after threats of legal challenges.

Grey makes it clear that the gradual change of lockdown levels with all those rules governing roasted chicken, the prescribed timing of exercise to the question, which kind of T-Shirt can be sold is simply nonsensical and not backed up by any science. She says: “One can argue whether the extension of the lockdown and these alert levels are justified, and I think we could argue that an additional two weeks in the lockdown may have supported the work that had been started and was critical. …  “But the de-escalation, month on month, to various levels is nonsensical and unscientific.”

Government wanted us to believe that we buy time to prepare for the onslaught of the virus – and South Africans willingly gave the requested 3 weeks and also the added 2 weeks extension. But by now, preparations should be done and the virus, which simply will not be stopped but will have a walk through to our society with all the consequences.
While this is a given, the economic consequences are disastrous; people are desperate with no income, curtailed choices on so many not Covid-19 related matters – they are hungry and if we are honest, the physical distancing has never really completely worked in the dense township population as a matter of fact.

Instead of playing with the livelihood of people, with the sanity of people and the despair of poverty; instead of arguing about fine-tuning levels and sitting over long lists of winter related clothing or which flip-flops to ban for sale – life should now go back to a new normal – with the maximum of care for each other, the maximum of safety with physical distancing and face masks. Industries should be able to open again, going to work is for many less dangerous than staying in the township environment with its high population.

Maybe government does not trust itself about the readiness, reflecting on the many failures of governmental interventions or running from parastatals like ESKOM or Transnet, SAA or the Postal Services. Maybe government does not trust its own people; certainly the last weeks showed that it does not trust our democratic rules of engagement or the oversight function of the South African Parliament.

Be it as it may be – it is time to stop wasting energies on lockdown regulations in the different phases; all energy should be put in bringing society up to speed how to make it hip and chic to adhere to safety measures at the workplace or in the public domain.

Dr Ian Sanne, another member of the governmental advisory committee, in real life associate professor at the clinical HIV Research Unit at Wits University and CEO of Right to Care, said the committee was not asked whether the lockdown should downgrade to Level 3, or any broader questions related to the issue. He said: “How can you continue to implement these restrictive levels when the data shows that the transmission of the virus will continue unless you implement non-pharmaceutical interventions [NPIs] to slow the transmission down or get a vaccine? We know what we have to do. We have to implement NPIs … I think the government has failed to understand the psyche of its populace” He also added that due to the lockdown, other chronic sick patients failed to receive their medicine and care putting them into danger.

The disadvantages of a continued lockdown seemingly outweighs the benefits and causes more harm through hunger, lack of income, malnutrition, depression and lack for services for chronic ill patients. These are all  reason to phase out a measure which alienates more and more South Africans from their government while creating havoc for the personal lives of so many.

Nobody advocates a “back to the old normal” – but common sense dictates to take economically question and scientific rationale into account when making decisions in such times – and a honesty paired with skills to understand the situation holistically which definitely is for some decision maker lacking for reasons which to explain would need another blog.

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

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