God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Never give up

Indeed, it is a challenge in our days living in South Africa to balance good and not so good news – and more than once I have been made aware that my postings are rather unbalanced on the not so good news when it comes to Facebook and Twitter.
And I recognize it is true from the outside; even with the biggest efforts to find here and there also good news, the situation in South Africa is bleak at the moment and the battle of national government against common sense, the ignorance for the plight of the people, the frustration bursts manifesting in illegal land invasion, the ongoing corruption of the connected and the sheer insensitivity of South Africa’s President in trying to keep the peace within the ANC instead within South Africa leads to times of desperation and trauma.

And it questions for many also the very foundation of our chosen political system of democracy. The promise of bringing prosperity and freedom to all has not been fulfilled; we are rather seeing politicians playing according to a prescribed book still not having internalized or started to deeply value its content.

Yesterday, the official farewell ceremony for John Lewis, the civil rights hero from the USA took place and the ceremony was guided by his own words, which may hold the key also for our situation in South Africa, where Covid-19 has laid bare all the wrongs and unfinished business of the young democracy:
“When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself”

As said, Covid-19 has laid bare all the unfinished business of the current South Africa – it has shown the inability of most of the current leadership to adept to the values of democracy and the rule of law, it showcases the continued zest for enrichment for the connected and the disconnect between those, who once fought for liberation, but now literally forsake their former ideals to enjoy the perks of a perceived victory, leaving the masses behind, only to be really recognized in election times.

It is exactly this time when giving up is not an option, as such times of deep crisis make or break the future of generations to come. It is a time to voice concern, to lay open the wrongs, to speak out with force, but at the same time to pick up the brokenness of ordinary people and giving them a chance to live, to learn and to prepare for a better life for all in this country. It might seem to be a fight against windmills – it might to feel like Sisyphos rolling the round stone uphill; at the end it is the only way to counteract the ideology and failure of freedom fighters turned overstrained politicians, partly with a taste for entitlement and perks.

Democracy is an act – it is doing the right thing; working and fighting for the rights of those having subscribed to it. One does not need a political post as democracy calls each and every citizen to contribute to its functioning. For this to happen people must learn its ins and outs in theory and practice; they must be upskilled in this important field and then given the space to exercise their democratic freedoms and duties.

And we should never forget that there are many good people in this country, who want the best for the country. It calls simply for the art to connect, to build a network of goodwill and hard work – never giving up the hope, the dreams and the aspiration for South Africa being a place where the constitution reigns supreme and the people of the land live in peace and harmony with themselves and each other.

 

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

Out of touch with reality

Sometimes there comes blow after blow and one wonders about the trauma triggered in oneself and how to digest those, work through them and still keeps walking straight and with hope.
While still trying to absorb and digest all the chaos here in South Africa, this week also saw the publication from the Vatican on instructions on pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the church – issued by the Congregation for the Clergy.

And if you, as the valued reader, now wonder what a Vatican’s instruction has to do with the situation in South Africa, the answer is simple:
in both cases it seems to me in my humble opinion, that the touch with reality has been lost somewhere and somehow.
And in both cases, it seems that history and ideology are playing the major roles.

While in South Africa the governing party has lost the plot and even appears to be destructive in what it claims to have liberated, the Vatican’s publication shows similarities, as it takes its arguments out of a history long gone in current times and partly draws arguments which don’t hold water under the bridge.
It is generally amazing to see in the context of the global village, that many, facing crisis and uncertainty, are moving back and trying to hold on systems, faith systems and social constructs which worked in the past. Nationalism, reminiscent mood, anxiety and the unwillingness to embrace an uncertain future is an interesting mix telling the story of human mankind in current times. Or maybe that others are right in saying, that the digital revolution has overstrained human mankind, exposing our weaknesses and triggering a yearning for safety and security given by what we know and hold dear.

And for those taking a step back and observing, the mix is interesting: in the case of the church we have a real revolutionary style of leadership in comparison with the last popes in Pope Frances contradicting backwards showing instructions, while in South Africa we have the most modern constitution while working with ideologies coming out of the Cold War times. It is those unspoken contradictions which adds to the trauma of living in current times.
While South Africa is yearning to heal from Apartheid and the unbelievable and unashamed corruption till present times, the Catholic Church is yearning to heal from the unbelievable and unashamed abuse of children cushioned by clericalism and a partly abstruse medieval view on sexuality.

 

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

BEE

In the times of Covid-19, many faults and shortcomings in South Africa are coming to the forefront – forgotten or suppressed habits and emotions of the past surfaced again.
Looking at the tourism industry, it was noted that the national Minister of Tourism in South Africa insisted on applying BBBEE when assisting tourism and hospitality companies in crisis – and so leaving most of the white owned gust house, boutique hotels and travel companies out in the cold to cease business, consequently killing ten thousand of jobs especially in the Western Province.
A court confirmed the questioned practice to apply racial factors for dishing out help – and highlighted so again the controversial black economic empowerment scheme in South Africa, which splits society in those in favour and others finding it appalling to use race as criteria for quotes.

I guess this tweet from yesterday sums up the problem of BEE in the current format:
On the background of the abuse of BEE through politicians and the well-connected, it is almost impossible for a normal human being of this skin colour to be acknowledged for his or her efforts, skills and achievements. There is almost an automatism to assume that the person is in the position because of BEE preferences.
While assisting previous disadvantaged is a laudable cause; the way it was abused by so many in political power one or the other way to enrich oneself with money and/or power has jeopardised its meaning and purpose. Besides that, applying race as criteria confronts society with another problem:
Using this language prevents us simply from moving away from an artificial and hurtful past of injustices and disadvantages. Words create realities and if we want our future to be a non-racist, we have to stop this categorization for any future dealings.
It is a balancing act which almost requires the same amount of miracle like the peaceful transition 1994 into the new South Africa.
While the ruling party and other ideologists keep hanging on the past, using it for political gains and abusing it for own gains and justifications as well as cover up for failures South Africa will only have a chance to be a beacon of hope again when we get this balancing act right.
Once again the land around the Cape of Good Hope could be the shining light – showing the rest of the world that there is only one human race and that we acknowledge this in the way we talk, and we act.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Covid-19 Lockdown & Trauma


Trauma100 days of Lockdown, I have written and tried to summarize it in my last blog – but one topic, which needs to have its rightful place in an extra blog entry is something, most have not spent too much time on:
The trauma, this crisis and the lockdown has caused for most of the people, and the trauma-related consequences as an individual or as a society – in the case of South Africa anyhow adding to all the burden of a past still not healed.

Being threatened by an invisible enemy is already difficult to comprehend for many – but taken out of normal life completely is a complete other category of trauma:

Think of those living alone and suddenly for weeks without real social contact and maybe nobody to turn to;

think of those whose security was family and suddenly they were not allowed to see them, visit them, be with them, when they became sick or even died;

think of those who were exposed to police or military brutality, suddenly made a criminal after a life without any running into trouble with the law.

Think you those who had been forced to live in an abusive relationship for weeks without being able to run away;

think of the nightmares of the kids not really understanding why all is suddenly so different;

think of the people in townships who were asked, often without real explanation to distance themselves from each other, to stay home in a dense environment without income, food or perspective.

Also think of the people in the health sector fighting every day to keep patients alive and feeling at the same time threatened by the small little virus themselves and consequently their loved ones.

Life, as it has been for many born as “free” suddenly changed in a way, they never could have imagined; and those who have lived through wars and famine – how much déjà vu have they experienced in the last weeks. And not to forget here in South Africa all the limitations during apartheid times – again confined, berated, told what to do by politicians so far away from reality and enforced by a security cluster resembling in parts past experiences.

Being helpless and having to surrender to an apparatus run by people who have allowed, willingly participated or gained from the so-called lost years of state capture and corruption in South Africa creates another trauma.

And for those following world politics there is another trauma to add in the shape of a Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Victor Orbán, Rodrigo Duterte and others, showing that human mankind has certainly not reached the point of reasonable development, most of us would have thought we have developed. It’s shocking…

TraumaTrauma must be addressed and worked through – and here would be normally also religious institutions coming into the picture besides the professionals – but the mere absence of leadership in this sector in this time of crisis in so many countries created a trauma itself, but that might be a topic for another time.

Individual and collective traumata – this crisis is so much more than just a health or economic crisis…

 

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

100 days of lockdown and counting

Here in South Africa we are reaching the mark of 100 days in lockdown; certainly a time to look back and reflect on the result.

The lockdown was introduced for the first 3 weeks to prepare the nation for the onslaught of the virus – then extended 2 weeks further to finalise readiness. Going to lockdown level 4 the first discontent became clear between government and society: rules which did not make sense, authoritarian behaviour of ministers, a National Covid-19 Command Council which defies our constitution, criminalization of more than 200 000 people for “breaking the law” of the lockdown. At the same time a rise in gender based violence and farm murders; and obviously the stealing from government coffers never stopped really and on reflection – and there was more than enough time – it was blatant clear that buying alcohol or cigarettes is more criminal than stealing billions of Rand. The ideology of the ANC government was highlighted by the fact, that the national Minister of Social Development tried several times effectivly to block NGO’s from feeding the hungry and assisting those left behind. Only the ruling party hands out goodies. The latest episode of allowing politicians tainted by the VBS scandal to return to office underlines business as usual.
Arriving beginning of June in lockdown level 3 we see currently that the Eastern Cape and also Gauteng starts to show a lack of preparedness – that all the talk of flattening the curve and giving time to prepare was not used appropriately. The attempt to abuse the health crisis to force ideological driven economic reforms surely contributed to unemployment and poverty. Some sectors like the tourism and hospitality industry is still held hostage by a questionable competent Minister of Tourism and a BEE ideology, which served the few and left the majority in the darkness of poverty.

Covid-19 has exposed South Africa in many ways – the brutality of the military and police in the first weeks of the lockdown left people dead – and the unwillingness of the authorities to investigate reminded many of the Apartheid times attitude. The ignorance of democratic and parliamentary rules by those ruling the country gave witness on how fragile our new democratic system is. The gapes between those with money and those in poverty were exposed in dimensions often only addressed when election time is looming. The attempts to illegally occupying land and the somehow and often brutally looking reaction of the state showed how helpless situations can become in finding a meaningful solution. The mere fact that the Western Province – led by an opposition party –  is without any doubt the best organised province in this crisis, did not really help in the situation as the race question and the entitlement of the ANC does not allow for anyone is better as the liberator turned politicians. Lastly Covid-19 showed how often disconnected politicians are from the reality of ordinary South Africans.

Are there any positives? Indeed, they are: the amount of readiness to assist within civil society was amazing, the partnering of more affluent areas with townships a blessing for many. For those having the permits to go and work the ability to get to and from work without standing for hours in the rush hour contributed certainly to the well-being of the drivers. We learned that lots can be done from the home office, for many, the time of being forced to slow down gave time also for reflection on what is really important in life. The virus taught many a lesson – and the virus was in my humble opinion also a “sign of the times” which I hope churches will exploit more and more. Being not system relevant must have come as a shock for many church leaders, as the insight, that people can live good lives without going to church every Sunday. Worship can take so many forms – and especially for clergy there is much more to reflect on relevance and role in the religious sector.

If we had a government with more common sense and less ideology our lockdown would end and the only reasonable tools would be applied to go forward: wearing a face mask, physical distancing in crowded situations, testing and tracking, quarantine and isolation for those infected. Emphasis would be laid on those measures and our economic would be given the chance to avoid a complete meltdown in many sectors. The message of being together in this and caring for each other could allow for the healing and overcoming racial divides; this virus has not only exposed the weakness of our society but is also a chance which until now not really has been taken up by those entrusted with governing the nation.

South Africa has until now not matched the worst predictions which stood at the beginning of the pandemic. The numbers are still reasonable and some would argue the economic lockdown has more negative consequences than the virus ever can have. The judgement is still out, but looking at the rise of unemployment, retrenchments, closures of business and downgrading of our system the future looks indeed bleak for many haunted by poverty anyhow.

So where do we stand after 100 days of forced lockdown? Opinions will differ on the past – may there be more common sense, empathy  and meaning for the next steps out of the crisis by harvesting more the good things happened in the time of need.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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