God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

“Month-to-month phasing-out of the lockdown has no basis in science”

I think, clearer than in the headline of this blog one cannot point out, that the level-phased lockdown has no room in the minds of scientists. And this verdict comes not from somebody hardly known but from Dr Glenda Gray, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) and chairperson of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). She is a specialist paediatrician and HIV vaccine researcher. She was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2017 and  received South Africa’s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe.

She is one of the great academics, President Cyril Ramaphosa says he bases his decisions on, when it comes to Covid-19. Which obviously warrants the question whether he means what he is saying or whether in the top secret meetings without minutes – so indicated by Minister Dlamini-Zuma when asked about the ban of cigarette sale question – those opinions count nothing against the ideology of hard-liners within the Covid-19 Command which, by the way – suddenly extends to the whole cabinet after threats of legal challenges.

Grey makes it clear that the gradual change of lockdown levels with all those rules governing roasted chicken, the prescribed timing of exercise to the question, which kind of T-Shirt can be sold is simply nonsensical and not backed up by any science. She says: “One can argue whether the extension of the lockdown and these alert levels are justified, and I think we could argue that an additional two weeks in the lockdown may have supported the work that had been started and was critical. …  “But the de-escalation, month on month, to various levels is nonsensical and unscientific.”

Government wanted us to believe that we buy time to prepare for the onslaught of the virus – and South Africans willingly gave the requested 3 weeks and also the added 2 weeks extension. But by now, preparations should be done and the virus, which simply will not be stopped but will have a walk through to our society with all the consequences.
While this is a given, the economic consequences are disastrous; people are desperate with no income, curtailed choices on so many not Covid-19 related matters – they are hungry and if we are honest, the physical distancing has never really completely worked in the dense township population as a matter of fact.

Instead of playing with the livelihood of people, with the sanity of people and the despair of poverty; instead of arguing about fine-tuning levels and sitting over long lists of winter related clothing or which flip-flops to ban for sale – life should now go back to a new normal – with the maximum of care for each other, the maximum of safety with physical distancing and face masks. Industries should be able to open again, going to work is for many less dangerous than staying in the township environment with its high population.

Maybe government does not trust itself about the readiness, reflecting on the many failures of governmental interventions or running from parastatals like ESKOM or Transnet, SAA or the Postal Services. Maybe government does not trust its own people; certainly the last weeks showed that it does not trust our democratic rules of engagement or the oversight function of the South African Parliament.

Be it as it may be – it is time to stop wasting energies on lockdown regulations in the different phases; all energy should be put in bringing society up to speed how to make it hip and chic to adhere to safety measures at the workplace or in the public domain.

Dr Ian Sanne, another member of the governmental advisory committee, in real life associate professor at the clinical HIV Research Unit at Wits University and CEO of Right to Care, said the committee was not asked whether the lockdown should downgrade to Level 3, or any broader questions related to the issue. He said: “How can you continue to implement these restrictive levels when the data shows that the transmission of the virus will continue unless you implement non-pharmaceutical interventions [NPIs] to slow the transmission down or get a vaccine? We know what we have to do. We have to implement NPIs … I think the government has failed to understand the psyche of its populace” He also added that due to the lockdown, other chronic sick patients failed to receive their medicine and care putting them into danger.

The disadvantages of a continued lockdown seemingly outweighs the benefits and causes more harm through hunger, lack of income, malnutrition, depression and lack for services for chronic ill patients. These are all  reason to phase out a measure which alienates more and more South Africans from their government while creating havoc for the personal lives of so many.

Nobody advocates a “back to the old normal” – but common sense dictates to take economically question and scientific rationale into account when making decisions in such times – and a honesty paired with skills to understand the situation holistically which definitely is for some decision maker lacking for reasons which to explain would need another blog.

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

A new form of state capture?

State capture is defined as a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage. In times of Covid-19 there arises the question, whether not private interests but collective interest of a group within the ruling party significantly influences a state’s decision-making process to their own advantage and ideology.

The installation of a so called Covid-19 Command council, a government grouping which was originally tasked to  deliberate and makes decisions on steps the country should take to manage the pandemic during the lockdown was turned only days later via the Presidency’s official Twitter page into “leading” the response to the crisis. Suddenly a “collective” was ruling South Africa – and during the last weeks, announcements were made only to be withdrawn or changed seemingly at the leisure of members of this council. The rare appearance of the President himself, his soft and moderate approach was often countered by harsh and threatening messages of his own ministers or his co-chair, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The now famous “cigarette selling promise” highlighted the shift in responsibility for everybody to see.

Questions also arose and are not put to rest about the legality of the Covid-19 Command council, but also the way, the entire SANDF was called to enforce lockdown rules, which even the former Minister Trevor Manuel calls in question. It does “not passed the test of rationality”, so Manuel and further: “What you can and can’t buy and so on doesn’t work. Also, the idea that you can exercise only in a three-hour period. None of these pass the test of rationality,” “We need voices to speak to the National Command Council and ask that rationality be the order of the day.”

The attempt to force NGO’s to channel food supply through government – read: through the ANC in most cases – is another sign, that things are not right and motivations have to be questioned. The announcements of various minsters and the president himself of using – or should we better say: abusing the Covid-19 crisis to create a new economy adds to the feeling, that measures taken are not only in the interest of overcoming a health crisis. Limiting possibilities of work for foreigners, demanding a higher percentage for hospitality to open doors again, talking of RET in a time when every business – except the black market for cigarettes and alcohol – is suffering, enforcing BEE on the tourism sector at this moment in time signals intentions beyond health. And when suddenly the procurement of nuclear power comes into discussions – déjà vu is not far away.

The question of the numbers of infections in the Western Province, related to strategy and systematic testing becomes also more and more the taste of a political battle field – veiled threats mainly on social media to tighten the lockdown in the province again and ignoring facts warrants attention.

South Africa needs at the moment the goodwill of all people, it needs transparency and an honest approach to kick start the economy by balancing health and work. We were told that the lockdown has given government the time to prepare for the onslaught of the virus which will happen. We know that a continuation of the lockdown does not serve any purpose in the dense populations of South Africa but only brings our economy further down the drain and unemployment will climb to heights never seen in the country. Let’s not allow a group within the ruling party to jeopardize the progress made and let’s not allow the fragile fabric of the new South Africa been thorn in pieces by the abuse of a worldwide crisis.

 

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, 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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Observations in the times of Corona

Amazing times indeed – having to cut short a 4-week trip is something one does not do light-hearted, but the ever escalating events and restrictions are of a level never seen in my lifetime.

Pondering for days to cancel the US part of it – and then decision taken out of my hands by the US authorities. Meetings cancelled and those still happening are at distance – 1.5 m and no physical contact allowed. And don’t cough when in public spaces: anxious eyes are immediately following you, having identified you as the source of the closer coming infection. Business people with suit and surgical gloves are interesting trend setters – and the everywhere mask which has a zero effect but a feel good component of “I am doing something”.

In Germany there seems to be the threat of no toilet paper palpable – and noodles – not sure how this goes together, but I am still investigating the mysterious link between the two. Airlines change flight times and cancel flights on a regular base – it is almost triggering unease when leaving Berlin this morning and everything was done in time without changes.

But serious: I see this experience as a very healthy one – it cuts you down to normal seize again and it is hopefully a lesson for human mankind, that we are part of something much bigger, but not the masters of the universe or at least this planet and this creation. The situation gives us the chance to readjust our value system and recalibrate what is important and who is important in our life.

Nor political or financial system is able to overcome such a reminder of humility alone – we are all in the same boat – and while many display symptoms of either pure ignorance or great panic – disseminating all info on social media without even thinking to use brain cells – there are the first signs of a change of hearts and minds: “Entschleunigung” is one of the German buzz words – going slower, having more time to think and to reflect, having more time for family and friends, rediscovering values and appreciation of those around us. We need each other – we are not competition but in it together. I guess especially the latter is more a lesson to be learned by the European and US American population. We Africans might be able to contribute our “ubuntu” to these new discoveries – in a new way being heard and listened to – and not only laughed at as those having missed the bus.

Corona is a lesson to learn – and I can only hope and pray that human mankind comes out of this crisis more humble, more considerable and more decent – paving the way for more humanity and a deeper sense of being – being part of something bigger we all strive to understand in one way or the other.

We are all on the way – the mystery of where we come from and where we go to still remains and all the bugs, all the bacteria and virus are part of our journey. I am sure it all will make sense at the end…  but for the time being, I am happy just to acknowledge that the mere fact has unsettled our way of living, our way of working and the way we see and experience the world.

Filed under: Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , ,

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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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