God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Easter means hope

It was amazing to see how many people cheered President Ramaphosa after his last speech where he prolonged the lockdown for South Africa another 2 weeks till the end of April. It seems that the fear of people overwrites all common sense; the question whether lives to be rescued or economy was in the aftermath highlighted as the all decisive question. And obviously for most people the answer was clear cut out: Ramaphosa was choosing life above economical matters.
I don’t share this clear cut assessment: It is not about life or economy – it is about how people survive in a decent and human way after the crisis is fading away. There is no escape from the virus and let’s be honest: the daily figures are relative in South Africa – we test too little and our statistics are at best an indication of direction, the virus takes us. Killing the livelihood of people while battling the virus does not fulfil the aim of the current strategy. The virus will linger on – there is no final defeat and this should be clearly communicated. This virus will live with us and as with all those small little creatures, we have to live and constantly battle it. It’s part of evolution – and we are part of evolution. Human mankind is not the master of evolution.

There must be a balance in a country which suffers already from high unemployment, corruption, failed economical strategies, poverty and a clear disconnect between those ruling and those being ruled. The despair of people in the townships, their inability to keep distance because of population density, the time wise heavy-handed enforcement efforts by police and military speaks volume about all the question marks currently entertained by worried citizens.
It is indeed clear that the virus demands caution, physical distancing, covering mouth and nose and other behavioural adjustments. But with all this must go a realistic hope and a sustained way to keep society economically viable and alive. People must see an exit strategy of a lockdown which is quite unique with its stringent measures here in South Africa. Being told what is essential or not to buy, being – depending on how your living conditions are – deprived of exercise and fresh air, walking your dog, smoking a cigarette (because you are out of stock at home) and all the rest can go only as far as people are willing – out of fear or conviction – to adhere to.
In Europe there are first data showing that people start to question restrictions and politically there is clear talk about how to have an exit strategy for a new reality after Covid-19. An exit strategy means hope – and hope is needed in times of despair. The feast of Easter encourages hope, it tells of a light at the end of the tunnel, it talks about life giving and life saving stories billions of people have used since this man from Nazareth lived and died to keep the flame of hope alive in personal life, but also within the fabric of societies.

Hope always speaks of courage – a courage born out of the promise that life has a meaning and that every life is important and can contribute to the well-being of this world. This hope of Easter overcomes fear and anxiety and leads to new life, a new reality not only after death, but already here and now. This hope must therefore also have consequences how we deal with this crisis.

May this easterly hope guide us through this challenging time and support a way bringing balanced solutions on our way into a so-called new reality after Corona.

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

South Africa on the edge – and why NGO’s are in this time so important

We have to be honest: Corruption, the inability of freedom fighters turned politicians, sheer greed and no time to develop proper political and social leadership under the pressure and expectations of the new dawn – all those factors have brought South Africa on the edge of disaster – painted nicely in very dark colors yesterday with declaring “Stage 6” of load shedding. A very nice word for mismanagement as well as non existing or minimal maintenance by Eskom officials and the result of a transformation policy kicking out institutional knowledge and beefing up manpower far more than the operations necessitate.

It is felt like a time of crisis, a time of anxiety and a time where people and society feels left alone fighting forces on a daily base they can’t influence – being at the mercy of irrational SOE’s and broken services deliveries and somehow a very bleak future.
In such times the power of NGO’s and civil society organizations are coming to the front: they are often the rescue net for many ordinary citizens – they are able to give hold and a perspective for those feeling powerless, they are passing on the small flame of hope – in the darkness of load shedding a small flame has indeed the power to light up and guide the way.
In such times it becomes clear that politics alone can’t solve a countries problems or cover all the missteps done in the past. Non-governmental organizations, volunteers and all those forces for good are the stabilizing factors making sure that the social fabric of society is not completely broken.

Such times may be a wake-up call for the future that politics recognize more than ever before the need to develop a culture of cooperation, of reliable partnerships to strengthen the service delivery people are deserving on a daily base. In South Africa this culture is still in its infancy – often one has the impression that NGO’s are gap-filler or paid cheap sub-contractors of state entities not living up to the promises of past elections. It is time to elevate those relationships onto an eye-to-eye level.

At the end state entities and NGO’s are serving the same people – they are called to support the dignity of every citizen and enable him / her to live life to fullest as guaranteed by the constitution and the Bills of Rights.

NGO’s can’t replace government run services, but they complement and at times like ours even cushion lack of service and soften the anxiety and fear attached to it. In doing so they also cushion and influence the picture, in this case South Africa is giving to the rest of the world. All a reason more to realize how important NGO’s are in our times.

 

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

One of those days…

Preparing for my flight to Europe and the airline already now know that there will be a more than 4 hour delay. Nevertheless they insist of being at the airport and check in at the normal prescribed time. Not really enhancing the mood.
Following the news also does not help – the Khashoggi case seems to develop slow but steady – to imagine that in a NATO country an embassy is used to kill a journalist and then cut him in pieces is not only appalling but it was one of the things I could not imagine – like so many developments in our current world affairs. USA, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy – the amount of countries which seemingly fall into the trap of authoritarian rule or xenophobic attitude  – weakening democracy and darkening the horizon of the new dawn of freedom, liberty, human rights and decency among countries most of us have had in the beginning of the millennium – seems to be growing.
Social media and modern technology hailed to bring people together are dividing and causing anxiety on all fronts of societies – in the moment one has the impression that the negative effects of possibilities to connect are clearly winning the day. And so do all those politicians with simple populist answers knowing perfectly well that disaster is looming when they gather enough followers. Populism is self-destructive – history has proven it over and over again.  And social media are weapons of choice for trapping those who are vulnerable to propaganda and easy solutions.

Maybe that is the reason why I believe that beaming people via SKYPE and conference call and Whatsapp are not enough to really engage with each other. I prefer the surely more expensive and time-consuming way of meeting the people, share some time with them and discuss matters relevant in person.  It is then and there that real conversation is happening – encounter in the real sense of the world. And if you can’t hide behind a slogan or a screen or a party or an ideology but one is looking into the eyes of the person sitting opposite – real communication, real problem solving is happening – real understanding is given birth.

I am convinced we have to stop being computer screen warriors and instead really engaging with the world. Clicking “like”or any other emoji might give a feeling of having done your bit – but this is self-deception and fooling oneself. It is also the only way that we can stem the non-sense of populism, bad right-wing politics  and – in the case of the USA – anti-academic attitude like denying climate change. Otherwise we are playing with our future – but maybe Mother Earth is happy to continue to exist without human beings – maybe it is not a great loss if the human race is failing and fading away.

Be it as it be – I am preparing for flying out today and I am looking forward to meet all those in the next days and weeks who are part of the HOPE Cape Town family or interested to know about it and maybe join those spreading hope and engaging with real people. Real people, who want to live with dignity striving for decent prosperity and who want to create a future for the next generation to come.

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

Madness translated into perspective

I guess there are not a lot of people who are not worried about the madness politics is presenting almost globally: be it the constant onslaught of a self-absorbed fake news producer like Donald Trump, be it the raw emotions raving through Germany when it comes to the questions of refugees, be it the bizarre battle in Bavaria about crosses in all state institutions or the renaming of the Ministry of Home Affairs into “Heimat-Ministerium” – the list could continue endless.

All those madness is an expression of a somehow deep down felt insecurity of the human race looking into the future. It seems that most people experience an inner anxiety which translates into yearning for the “good old times” or the “strong man” , holding on to what is known while not being able to clearly seeing what will come.

And what will come is tremendous – it has consequences so far-reaching that those anxieties have to be taken seriously – even if it seems that politicians are yet not able to really grasp or understand the magnitude of changes coming. Or if they do, they are not honest with the people on the ground.

The digital revolution which is unfolding in front of our eyes will be much more profound than the industrial revolution or any other which has shaped human mankind. It completely changes the way we work, we feel, we act and we plan. It makes it necessary to look with completely new eyes how people are organized, how countries and states are functioning, how democracy or a dictatorship is working, how wars are battled out. Whoever has watched Mark Zuckerberg giving testimony in front of the US American Congress speaking about the Facebook Community which spans around the globe will have gotten a glimpse how mind-blowing social media and inter-connectivity of people in reality is. Additionally artificial intelligence will shape our path into the future in a way most ordinary people can’t imagine. And not only those with money will rule the world, but also those writing the algorithms on which we more and more base our decision-making process.

The “fake news” debate and the Russian interference – the bots in social media and the personalized streamlined news of Facebook with targeted advertising is the starting point of a manipulation spree which promises to intensify in many different ways. All the health and activity monitoring watches and gadgets slowly change the way you think and act and motivate yourself.

Ethical guidelines for those writing the algorithms and programming the computers are urgently needed to avoid what will make Orwells “1984” novel a cheap copy of reality.

This also means that the way, Africa is developing has to be seen in a different light – the argument you hear often that Europe is so developed in democracy and other portfolios because it took so much time to come to today’s state of affair will hold no water anymore for the emerging states on the continent as time has to be factored out as a necessary part for such development. Developments in the area of digital progress are too fast.  And there is something else:

The intensity with which the human race tries to destroy the very fabric of the planet and makes it inhabitable is mind-boggling – just watch how the USA in the moment turns the clock back on recent achievements. We might be able to kill ourselves and our environment before we even have a grasp and we are ethically on top of a digital development which just begun.

If we want to succeed as the human race we have to pull on one string when it comes to cut down on destroying the planets resources – and we have urgently start to rethink the way we organize ourselves – how we want to keep up the core elements of democracy, good governance and social achievements globally. We need to develop ethical guidance in the digital mine field we are about to enter.

And we need to understand in Africa, that looking too much into the past we miss the train into a future where this continent should play a major role instead of chasing a history which is needed to learn lessons, but not to get stuck in. A fine balance where once again too many emotions will not help the cause.

Donald Trump and there-likes are the last stand of a chapter in human history – white male dominant racist – which comes to a close and nothing will change that – except when we continue to allow further destruction of human decency, academic wisdom, religious tolerance and all the parameters needed to keep our planet breathing.

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

Difficult times for an US adventure

Preparing for my trip to the USA in March I wonder how the present situation is playing out. The messages coming from US soil are divers, hostile, confusing and at least irritating. Having founded HOPE Cape Town USA last year, nobody could envisage that the situation is getting so different in such a short time. It seems that a split is going through society, either complete and utter praise or complete and utter condemnation on the style of government in which the new president conducts business.
What does this mean for a NGO trying to bridge between the USA and South Africa – to tackle common problems, specifically HIV, AIDS and children, but also related problems? There are two possible scenarios: either people in the USA are so preoccupied with the internal battles that international affairs are on the back-burner; or the opposite effect will be seen: people want to make a point that “America first” is counteracted by “humanity first”.

Be it as it will be – the uncertainty does take its toll on planing and preparation for the work ahead. It creates more question marks than answers – but maybe the only answer is to go ahead, meet people in person and try to make the world a better place cutting through the rough waves of politics and anxieties. Maybe the joint venture can be a sign for those involved to remind themselves that the world is bigger than the tenure of a president and that focusing on the men in power might feed their egos as they crave for attention.

Maybe a bit “business as usual” is needed to maintain sanity in these turbulent days – showing practically what counts in life and for the good of the world. I am determined to continue walk my way with all those of good will – showing that “America first” maybe means “America first when it comes to humanity and service”. Let’s never forget that those we try to assist are those who need the compassion especially in such uncertain times – those in poverty, those at the bottom of society; those sick and thorn apart by daily problems need all help possible.

I am looking forward to meet my friends in the USA and to continue working for the hope we are called to be for others in need.

Filed under: Africa, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town USA, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , ,

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