God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

“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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Art of saying nothing and a half-hearted apology

After a long silence the President of South Africa appeared on television again to speak to his “fellow South Africans”.

Frustration and distrust are running high in this country when it comes to governmental decisions, the micro-managing of many aspects of daily life not related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the brutality of law enforcement, the threat to shut down essential feeding schemes and the killing of millions of jobs through partly meaningless lockdown demands warranted his appearance.

Unfortunately he did not spell out any real and substantial promise, but kept for a most of the time a very general narrative, promising for some parts of the country another easing of lockdown to level 3 but at the same time indicated pockets to remain on level 4. Which one gets which blessing should be determined by infection numbers and other projective models, but again he failed to take the nation into confidence what models, who are the advisors and what is the rationale behind distinguishing between a T-shirt, being allowed to sell or not to sell, or the threat posed by flip-flops being sold. It would be indeed interesting to hear who the experts in those cases are.

While confirming, that the lockdown was done to enable the government to beef up the ability to handle higher numbers of Covid-10 patients and the fact, that even lockdown does not stop the virus, he somehow contradictory stated the continuation of the lockdown and the easing to be determined by the various people sitting on the ominous and non constitutionally sound Covid-19 command council.

His mentioned several times, that the only objective of government is to save lives and that all South Africans are together in it. He failed to explain, why BEE related conditions for assistance in the tourism sector divides the nation into those entitled and those without government help. He also failed to explain why a new economy and radical economic transition is on top of the agenda in crisis times instead of saving jobs and containing the virus. The lack of testing equipment, the comparison of South Africa only with those states doing awful in their Corona response to paint a picture serving his narrative was also not convincing.

The half-hearted apology at the end for making mistakes was going into the right direction, but could have been more forceful and accompanied by sustained information instead of lots of warm air and seemingly nice words to calm down a clear wave of frustration by “our people”, as the people of South Africa so happily be called by politicians.

What do we know after his talk?
We know that the country will be divided by the Covid-19 council into those parts moving forward and those being left behind when it comes to changing levels – and the fear is, that the determination of this will be done by projections only calculated in secret. The distrust and frustration will further rise and hurt even more the already damaged fabric of society. The politicisation of health issues or the assumption of such will bring more unnecessary pain to the people. It is widely expected that those parts of the country which have the best testing and reporting capacity will be punished for doing so as they are also conveniently being ruled by the opposition party.

And again, it will be the collective making decisions – and obviously nobody can be held responsible for those decisions – which is – for those in charge – very convenient. As it was convenient for the President to highlight and to thank the people of South Africa for the adherence regarding the lockdown regulation – either not knowing or willing ignoring that in most townships the physical distancing remains an impossibility – but to say this would not fit the narrative needed to stand in front of the nation.

So, after his speech – South Africans still don’t know what to expect as – as always – all substantial information will be communicated by those again, whose fight against alcohol, cigarettes, and summer t-shirts are so well known by now within the nation. A President, who leads, looks and speaks different.

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

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, , , , , , ,

Bad news for South Africa?

Attentive observers already had a feeling that the measures governing South Africa at the moment are not only Covid-19 related but now a speech of President Ramaphosa confirmed in not uncertain terms that the crisis is a perfect smokescreen to change the economics and with it the social fabric of South Africa in one go.

In remarks in Kwazulu Natal on Tuesday, the 5th of May he spoke about the reconstruction of South Africa’s economy and said:
“Covid-19 is quite frankly giving us an opportunity to relook at our economic side of life to see how we as South Africans reconstruct our economy after coronavirus, knowing that coronavirus has dealt us a huge blow. … This is a post-war situation. We have been fighting an invisible enemy and now we must start planning for a post-war situation which gives rise to a number of challenges and opportunities. … Radical economic transformation must underpin the economic future that we will need to craft going forward. We should be able to do this through a new compact we are going to build”

Listening to him provides then the background to understand the measures taken not only to combat the pandemic and concentrate on cushioning the impact on poverty and economy but more than less intentionally manoeuvre the state into a new compact while the country struggles with massive financial woes and still waiting to recover money wasted by corruption and ideology since decades.
While millions of people in this country struggle to secure enough food, while staff in hospitals feel let down and anxious, while repatriations of South Africans end up in fiasco and rules and regulations change by the day with no end in sight – instead of fixing what is first important it seems that the ruling party sees the Covid-19 pandemic as a perfect opportunity to radically change the game while people are in lockdown and challenged by often questionable rules made by those roaming freely because of their VIP status.

Nobody in this country is against transformation and a better future for all – but with the track record of government in running SOE’s and the fiscal challenges piling up every day more – abusing a health crisis to achieve this transformation will bring more misery to those anyhow left out since years. Instead of using the time for a narrative of “we are all South Africans – and we together will come out stronger”  the impression is that rather racial undertones and racial scoring has the upper hand, deepening the trauma of this society.

Adding the clear signs, that the past has not left office for the members of the South African National Defence Forces and the South African Police Service – having been implicated in several cases of brutality and torture – the question of transformation as a healing process and not a radical process is even more urgent. This country will not be able to have a future if ideology, racism, tribalism and lingering in the past governs supreme.

Covid-19 is now more than a health challenge – it is a challenge whether the new democratic South Africa and society as such allows those in power to use the situation for their own ideological gain or if the last 25 years brought enough appreciation for democratic rules as a guarantee for a future for all South Africans and with it for Africa as a continent.
At this moment in time, the prospects look very muddy – but not all is lost. Maybe the courts will come to the rescue again looking at the non-democratic command structures formed and increasingly questioned by constitutional lawyers.

 

 

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

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