God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Sheer irrational government decisions

It happened again – yesterday a court came to the rescue of millions of South Africans trapped into regulations partly defying any common-sense or logic. The North Gauteng High Court declared the rules and regulations of level 4 and current level 3 irrational and set aside – giving government 2 weeks to change the way they conduct business in the Covid-19 crisis.

For somebody, who has questioned sharply the thoughts and authoritarian behaviour of Cele, Mbalula and Dlamini-Zuma, but also other ministers and governmental bodies in the last week it comes not as a surprise, but still as a relief that judges share the sentiment, that many of the rules are arbitrary and serve nothing else than a hidden agenda – but not the fight against Corona or the protection of people.  “Sheer irrational” were the regulations when it came to Corona – sheer rational when you look at it as a tool to satisfy ideology and the temptation of power.

This all adds to the advice of the medical advisory council that our current level does not serve any further health purpose and as Dr Gray spelled it out, even before many rules were simply not justified at all.

The state capture of a different nature we witnessed in the last weeks has been brought to a hold – one day in the future, people will realise how much they own the courts to uphold the constitution and protect them against politicians who with all their greed for power and their feeling for entitlement on so many levels, keeping the masses depending on their handouts.

The new South Africa will only start to prosper when old mechanisms and ideologies are left behind and the ruling party starts to understand themselves as a political party amongst others and not as the masters of South Africa’s destiny with a birthright of power because they contributed heavily to the freedom of all in the country. Truth is: Many forces came together – many sacrifices were made in so many ways – many lives lost – and the greatness of liberators is not measured in the power they keep but the humanity and humbleness with which they serve the people and with the openness for changes in a democratic political system where there is no enemy but a struggle of minds within a clear set of constitutional rules.

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

Churches, but no hotels, restaurants

Yesterday evening again President Ramaphosa appeared on TV to introduce a day of prayer for South Africa, but also declared religious leaders essential worker and opened up church services under level 3. He did this obviously under strict conditions and with limitations to the amount of people attending.

I feel this decision is health wise premature and when there is one lesson to learn from other countries opening up for church services then it is that those are becoming the hotspots and origin of new clusters. And this in countries where religion is much more organised while here in South Africa every self-declared prophet can open up a church. Adding to the concerns is that in the traditional churches, the age group of worshippers is more and more moving to those which government want to stay home: the over 60.

Obviously we all know that mega churches and some African-Christian churches are a political factor in South Africa – and the push to open up for business again and bring money in the kitty was obvious after the meeting between religious leaders and government last week.

With this decision government leaves again the grounds of the rational decisions  and shows, that all their talk about science and taking advice from other countries is more of a smoke screen.

Most traditional churches were very quiet during the lockdown – while some pastors tried to mitigate poverty and hunger, the official representatives lacked somehow the “option for the poor”  in words and deeds.
The kairos of Covid-19, the reflection of this sign of the times and the chances it offered for a review of worship practice, theological considerations and house churches was often wasted and replaced by video and zoom maintaining status quo.

I missed the voice of churches in the last weeks and months, I also have not seen really lots of theological discernment here in South Africa. And I fear that the opening of places of worship trigger more hotspots than the opening of hotels and restaurants could ever have done. It has to do with the nature of the beast:
Religious ceremonies are not about distancing, they are about hugging, singing, touching, speaking in voices and trance if you are pentecostal – you simply can’t degree a thousand years all practice to change with the 1st of June.

I guess it is a choice of emotions and not science if politics or society allow for worship again – but then justice demands that also other sectors, where indeed livelihoods hang in the balance, can be open under the same strict measures to allow to earn the money, the religious leaders certainly will claim now again from their faithful.

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

Frustration remains prevalent

It was a somehow defiant performance of the President of South Africa yesterday when he addressed the nation – he certainly learned the lesson that referring to the questionable Covid-19 Command could bring him into hot waters. Especially after the Chief Justice of the country encouraged people to take government to court if their action does not meet constitutional standards.
Moving to level 3 not directly but with still one week to go shows that there is a need for more discussions amongst those in charge to fine tune new rules and regulations – the president appears much more reserved on details of the new rules and avoiding so being contradicted by his own collective.

And there were certain points completely ignored or only mentioned in passing by:

* The question of feeding those without food and the controversy about Minister Zulu’s attempt to control the NGO sector in this portfolio
* The question of the emergency pay out via SASSA which is not really happening on a great scale
* The question of the tourism industry which is bleeding on a scale not seen before and already now partly not reversible
* The question arising out of the Khoza court proceedings judging the behaviour of police and military
* The question of how the emergency solidarity fund is safeguarded against corruption and how it is really administered
* The question of the black market for tobacco products which eliminates the advertised advantage of forcing smokers to stop smoking

As a president one has to have a feeling for the prevalent debates in society and to address those, especially in times of crisis. So the question has to be asked:
Is it a sign of complete disconnect with “our people” or the fear to hurt the ideology of the ruling party not to voice discontent with comrades in public but leave the discourse behind close doors.

Be it as it may be – there were clear signs that the unhappiness and frustration and the danger of these boiling over has reached the highest echelons of government. And this is a first step in the right direction. The coming days will show how the small print will be spelled out by the relevant ministers and the lady in charge: Dlamini-Zuma.  Her past track-record and her crusade against smoking while intrinsic connected to those cashing in on the black market makes her current position and power in a normal democratic society unbearable. But as said: in a normal democratic society. South Africa has still a long way to go to achieve this status.

If Covid-19 has positive aspects so is certainly one of them the mere fact, that this crisis showed all the cracks in our young democracy left after all the state capture and looting. Lots to work on to make South Africa a vibrant democratic state where the rule of law and the respect for human rights and human dignity is paramount at any given moment.

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

Too harsh or justified?

People reading my posts often make contact and ask: Are you not judging the situation too harsh? Does it even help the situation?

And my answer is: Seeing the plight of the people in areas HOPE Cape Town works; seeing the anxiety levels of our staff working in the health sector (and the Western Province is still the best) and quite frankly seeing the abuse of a crisis for an advancement of political ideology one cannot stay silent.

I am also aware that I am in a privileged position to voice discontent publicly; a lot of people fear that saying what they want to say would result in disadvantage for them or their families. Therefore, most criticism you find in WhatsApp groups and close-circuit conversations or anonymous on social media.

As a human being I have to be concerned about the hunger, the poverty, the hopelessness and the suffering of my fellow human beings.
As a priest I have to insist on solidarity against power abuse of those in power, I have to keep God’s promise of a life in dignity for all alive in the hearts and minds of the people.
As a political activist I have to insist that democratic rules are followed and neither politicians nor police or military ignore the rule of law and the law of the land.

This pandemic has opened our eyes to see the gaps between most freedom fighters turned politicians and the “normal” people they rule.  The crisis has shown how little South Africans have moved away from Apartheid times in so many instances: the brutality of the military and police in townships and the snitching in the so-called affluent areas give witness to it.
Politicians like Cele, Mbalula and Dlamini-Zuma have made it clear that the ruling party need much more liberation from their own ideology, and the movement will have a long way still to go to really transform into a political party serving the people.

But having said that all: every crisis, every challenge is also an opportunity. And maybe showing these opportunities were in shortage in my blogs in the last weeks.

The opportunity to understand how deeply entrenched the divide within society is when it comes to wealth and poverty – and it is not black / white; this scenario has changed since the introduction of BEE, eloquently used by those in power.
The opportunity to see all the possibilities again, civil society movements can achieve when there is a time of need.
The opportunity to invest more in understanding how democracy is not only a mechanism, but must be filled with the spirit and understanding, it deserves.
The opportunity to really unite letting skin-colour simply not coming into one’s way while assisting hands on.

And lastly how much we depend on each other, as fellow human beings, as a society, but also as a country on the goodwill of others, as citizens of a global village – realising that we are part of creation, the world as such, not master of the universe, but part of something much bigger. It should make us humble – all of us, independent where our place is in society.

A crisis time can also be a time of healing – but for this to happen an honest discourse has to happen, sometimes wounds have to be opened again to heal proper. In a crisis often honesty starts creeping in because there is no time for long discernment.

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

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, , , , , ,

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