God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Prayers with hands and feet?

I am not sure I see the whole picture or maybe most is hidden in broad daylight, but entertaining Facebook, Twitter and other social media I simply fail to see much activity of local churches here in South Africa in the times of need.
Yes, I see streamed services and appeals to pray the rosary, links to the Holy Father and his impressive messages of hope – all good, but I somehow miss in the times of CAN and neighbourhood initiatives here in South Africa the strong practical voices of the church.
I miss a stronger voice of churches being an essential service in practical ways, organizing and streamlining their response to the hunger of the people, to the empty stomachs and the despair in being often confined in questionable human conditions.

Maybe I don’t look at the right places, maybe social media is not a mirror of reality, maybe churches are too humble to advertise their concerted efforts of a structured approach to the life crisis, COVID-19 is bringing to the people.
Praying with your hands and feet is part of a theology, I have favoured throughout life and especially in times like these we should see strong leadership and courage trumping those at times no-sense making rules imposed on us. And as digital media and internet in the times of distancing is an important way of communication, I would wish for more traces of a Catholic or Christian response which sees itself as an essential service in so many ways.
We can’t expect higher powers to do so – in times of crisis necessary actions are not made by proclamation but by giving belief and conviction a pair of practical hands.

As said, maybe I look at the wrong places to witness all the action done under the radar – if so, then this post should encourage everybody to come into the open – to give witness of compassion and empathy not only with holy words but also with holy – whole making in the real sense of the word –  deeds here and now.  This unprecedented crisis is a ‘kairos” – a defining moment yearning for well organized action with and between churches and faith based organisations.

As said, maybe I don’t see the whole picture, and then forgive me for shouting out,
maybe I ask too much when looking at own fears and limitations, also that would be human,
but the nagging question remains:
Where are the churches visible in this crisis as a place of structured and systematic response?

 

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Flatten the curve?

“Flatten the curve” is the slogan to be heard all over the world – and South Africa was following the stringent measurements which keeps society at bay in so many countries. But instead of balanced measurements South Africa opted for the more Chinese approach clamping down as at many movements as possible even prescribing in detail what items could be sold or not when venturing out to go shopping. Police and military was sent out to enforce the lock-down, and they continue to try to stop any unnecessary travel of citizens.
Having a day when death by police brutality wins against the number of death through the Coronavirus certainly tells a story on its own. There are many questions whether physical distancing is working in the high density townships of South Africa, even more whether the ban of cigarettes or fresh air and some exercise really make sense.
But there is another question lingering in the air which is of equivalent or even more important:

Does the “flatten the curve” approach is feasible in a country which just was downgraded to junk status; a country economically falling apart, unemployment on a very high scale, more people on social grants than in work and a national debt exceeding 3 trillion Rand and going up to 4.5 trillion in the next years?
How long can a country, after years of state run corruption and the current constant lingering in no-man’s land of real decision-making in this regard flatten the curve before it is economically and socially broken beyond repair in the lifetime of those anyhow currently struggling?

Virologists tell us that without flattening the curve the death toll would be very high but the virus run out of steam in a couple of weeks while flattening the curve will save thousands of lives and prevent the collapse of the anyhow weakened health system. South Africa has seen in the Aids Pandemic what it means to lose people on a daily base in their hundreds. It can vouch for the tears and pain of an almost lost generation and the ignorance of a government towards its people. This time no one can complain about any ignorance – being prescribed what you can buy is the opposite of ignorance – one almost has the impression, there is never a middle ground in South Africa.

So the question is how to balance all this in a way which makes the most sense? How to take the people with on the journey beating the virus without destroying the future of the country economically?
The Covid-19 pandemic and how to react is a question in the crossroads of economic and ethical questions, it wonders our approach to life and meaning of life. And it certainly makes unmistakable clear that human mankind is not the master of the soil but part of something much bigger, part of the lot which we call the universe.

This is obviously not only a question for South Africa but the world as such. Nevertheless, in a country with its very unique and painful history, its still open wounds of the past and its attempt to walk as a democratic society, the challenge to balance remains.
Authoritarian solutions like in China are not adequate nor copies of the sophisticated European systems – we South Africans should have “ubuntu” as the baseline to find our own way to deal with the curve.

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

The danger of being authoritarian

Whoever watched yesterdays press conference in South Africa, where ministers outlined the response and rules of engagement during the 21 day lock-down might have now second thoughts about the events unfolding. After two presidential speeches from Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded in bringing across a coherent and logical response to the Covid-19 challenge, most ministers did not really show the same amount of compassion and sense for realities.

Remarkably some minister clearly showed signs of enjoyment being in charge and feeling in charge. Incoherent information unfortunately did not improve the situation either.
Keeping people apart can be done in different ways – and South Africa choose the method of lock – down. This in itself is not wrong – a tool of virus confinement used also by other nations. The example of Jordan comes to mind when looking how far and how restrictive measurements can be before people will start to rally against them. There is a fine balance between getting it right and going too far.

In a country like South Africa a buy-in of the population is a necessity to get the answer to the Coronavirus right. Understaffed police and military will not be able to control the masses if there is no goodwill amongst those being governed. Townships are not easy to control and the 21 days without income for so many is hardship not easy to endure if you have a family.

It has to be seen how things develop after midnight – the last 24 hours have been clearly an example how far away some political officials are from real life experience. It was also clear to see how split the ANC is between those understanding democracy and the care for those governed and those rather interested in the ideology of a party and power play. South Africa’s lock-down can be the salvation in the pandemic, but only if there is a clear balance between what is really needed to stop the spread of the virus and what is over-reacting for reasons far beyond necessity.

Democracies – especially in the times of such challenges – are in danger of losing out the freedoms they are supposed to guard and guaranteed. The feeling of citizens of being at the mercy of a pandemic can become a breeding ground for those politicians who have not captured and internalised the values of democracy. It is a temptation – and one has to watch out especially in a country without a long track record of this form of government.

 

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

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