God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Youth Day

Commemorating the events of 1976 – Soweto uprising – lives lost – dreams destroyed – future killed.

Since the advent of the New South Africa we hear rightly, that youth and youth development, youth employment are falling under the most important and pressing issues, South Africa has to tackle.

At the same time, ordinary citizens are again and again reminded by looking into the reality beneath the Sunday sermons of politicians, how messed up the situation is, especially when it comes to youth unemployment. Not sure if it is incompetence, wishful thinking of ideologists, political fantasies of bygone times, unsaved hurt of the past or the pressure to perform and keep up the illusion of action even in the eye of proven underperformance that causes this discrepancy between words and realities.

Whatever it is – South Africa will only have a future for all if youth have a dignified way to learn, to study, to train and to fulfil a satisfying role in the social and economical spheres of society.
If the high rising unemployment rate will continue in speed and volume as currently happening, the country will not saved by illusion, dreams and Sunday talks of the Presidency or the relevant departments in government.

Obviously, there are obstacles to solve the problem: real and perceived racism, real and perceived imbalances in the economic sector, the pressure of BEE in its current form and shape and the political scenery, which happily involves their own ideology and enemy image destroying many constructive opportunities. And clearly a failure in the educational sector on many levels.

We owe it to those who sacrificed their lives in 1976 and thereafter to get it right and to build a South Africa where young people have all tools at hand to prosper and make a decent living. It is a challenge which remain with urgency in our times. And only if we conquered this challenge, Youth Days in South Africa will be happy and celebratory in substance.

Filed under: 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, , , ,

Travel woes

Trying to travel in the times of Covid-19 becomes more and more a nightmare, especially when you come from a so called high-incidence area like South Africa – where the incidence of currently 11.9 and a recovery rate of over 95% constantly is obviously a major threat to European countries dealing with incident rates average between 100 and 300. It is an interesting experience to be a pariah of the world, only because South Africa did something right – which is seldom enough in our days – namely sequencing the existing virus genomes and making the world aware of a mutation which popped up in other countries as well and threatens e.g. with its 1% occurrence in Germany obviously this country in its core.

Trying to reach Europe from Cape Town is becoming a nightmare: airlines stop flying and entry is practically not allowed for those coming from the danger zone of open restaurants, hotels, shops and with level 1 lockdown almost normal life adhering to hygiene, masks in public and distance keeping.

But seriously:

The Robert-Koch-Institute in Germany keeps South Africa on all danger lists possible since last year – and till now only a court in Baden-Württemberg has dared to state, that this institute has not provided any valid reason for asking local governments in Germany to enforce extended quarantine for people returning from South Africa.

Those daring to fly to South Africa suddenly realise how politics can paint a picture of a country which has nothing to do with reality. Politics, which destroys without any visible regret a very important sector of South Africa’s economy, namely tourism, and pushes the country even deeper into trouble on many levels.

Fear and trying to be a Nanny state dictates currently German politics – add to it the urge to always have a perfect solution for a problem and inventing rules for it, then you have the perfect mix for disaster looming. Listening to those in charge you get the impression that they really think they can beat a pandemic. You simply can’t do this -you have to live with it – and you have to find ways to counter it in a way which balances the freedom of people and the needs of a healthy democracy with the threat posed by the virus.

Looking at the vaccine drives and the distribution of vaccines in the world, there is the other assumption for which Europe is falling: vaccinating their own people first will help. The pandemic is only under control if the virus is kept at bay all over the world at the same time. There is no first winner – even trying to curb travel will not lead to the final goal of co-existing with the virus on a level not really being a threat to humans.

Pandemics are a serious threat for human mankind and the systems, humans are working within; anxiety and fear are definitely not the best advisors nor is it to look only at virology for answers. Social sciences, the psychological impact as well as the economic impact are as important to balance and listen to. Time to reconsider as well as to reflect what governments are obliged to do and where the individual citizen remains in charge of his or her own destiny. Our highly complex societies and their interactions need different answers as we are currently able to give.
And like it or not:
Despite the failure regarding the vaccine story and the attempts to abuse the pandemic for political gains and transformation, for the time being South Africa handles the pandemic better than Europe.

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

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