God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Adding insult to hurt

Expected but still it feels like adding insult to the pain, many South Africans feel enduring lockdown day no 132 with no real plan provided to end the madness:
While millions of South Africans try to make ends meet the corruption frenzy of those connected and in government seems to climb new highs.
And to put salt in the wounds of society, the very same person being accused of fraud and corruption and – again with his family in the headlines for the wrong reasons –  Elias Sekgobelo “Ace” Magashule proclaims to the public after a NEC (National Executive Committee) meeting of the ruling ANC party, that the fight against corruption has priority and that the newest PPE scandals has “outraged and deeply embarrassed” the very party whose members are at the forefront of these acts. Stealing and benefiting from the Covid-19 crisis will certainly be one of the low-points of South African politics looking back in years to come.

Knowing the deeply engrained gratitude of those having lived through apartheid times which determines their voting attitude may facts be whatever they are; but also seeing the eroding of trust with those who are not either ideological blind sided or benefiting from the corrupt system, it remains seen which way South Africa will walk in the near and not so near future. Covid-19 has brought on the table all the shortcomings of the new South Africa. It can shatter the dreams of many or be a point of introspective reflection. It can be a time of grace in all the disgracefulness of current behaviour but for this to happen it needs churches and religious communities to lead the way and to create the space. But also on this front there is not really a lot visible right now.

Being a time before local election makes all this even more difficult as the Western Province can surely give witness to; the coordinated and almost sophisticated land invasions and the way, national government appears to deal with the province not under their rule but showing excellence in handling the crisis against all odds complicates things at times. The hospitality industry as well as the wine industry can vouch for this too.

So where from here?
I guess nobody really knows – the secrecy of the so-called National Covid-19 Command Council, the sheer inability of the ruling party in South Africa to find peace amongst themselves and renew, the plight of ordinary people being often ignored and kept dependent on hand-outs; and the general state of affairs of the surrounding countries, not to mention the geopolitical disturbances on the world stage will continue to challenge each and everybody in different ways. May the challenges become opportunities for the better…  Are we not called: Cape of Good Hope?

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

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

Middle ground or hiding incompetence – South Africa, quo vadis?

The chaos continues in South Africa:
Take the opening of schools through Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga – aimed to happen today – announcement last week, shifted several times and ended almost at one point in time in announcing, that students, who should be at school on Monday, 1st of June at 8 am would be advised by the Minister at 11 am the same day whether they have to go to school 3 hours earlier. Makes sense? No, but it reflects an incompetence, which could drive people crazy in our challenging times.
At the same time President Ramaphosa, who always repeated to adhere to the advice of the health professionals revealed, that the scientists, who advised government, told the minister to go from Level 4 lockdown to Level 1, as the lockdown measures have lost their meaning. The possible unconstitutional Covid-19 Central Command decided to ignore the advice and again lost no time in wasting time to write up new rules and regulations and giving ministers the opportunity to live out their authoritarian habits.
Looking at sciences and the experience of especially Germany, where the Pentecost weekend saw masses on the streets again and going on holidays, the infection figure did not rise. According to those in the medical field, there are some factors contributing to the surprisingly low numbers: wearing of a face mask and being able to be outside during the day. It seems more and more clear, that not the distance alone, but being in a confined space triggers more infections – the face mask and fresh air are the tools to avoid catching Covid-19. The aerosol factor in closed rooms become more and more important in transmission.
Also clear is that the virus will remain with us for a while and that most of us will go through an infection – healthy lifestyle, a safe working environment and again, fresh air and a face mask are the tools remaining powerful in slowing down or keeping down infections till a vaccine is found.

It is beyond understanding, that the government of South Africa, instead  of doing what it promised again and again to do – to adhere to medical advice and at the same time strengthen the economy and avoiding more poverty, hunger, despair and job loss simply ignore their own promises and keep on concentrating on making up rules for levels with no health benefits. Looking at the disaster of opening the schools in a meaningful way, realising how the transport system is not ready as Minister Mbalula had to admit mentioning unprepared PRASA; having the whole ESKOM and SAA dilemma not sorted out, the middle ground is nothing but hiding the incompetence of preparing the country for the new normal. Instead, fighting against booze and cigarettes, supporting a black market with benefits for people certainly “connected”, discerning for days which T-shirt can be bought in which level was the order of the days.

It is not a coincidence that the very same days, people worry about corruption looking at the billions made available for assisting those in need, amaBhungane and its #GuptaLeaks partners publish another lot about corruption and kickback history, reminding South Africa, where we are coming from and that the very same people, who let this happen, are still sitting in government and parliament. Talk is on to take the pension funds of millions of hard-working South Africans to bail the country out and make money available and there is the fear, that we end up like other African countries when all monetary wealth is gone and there is nothing left to loot.

Establishing the Fraud protection unit for the stimulus packet, opening up the country for business again and concentrating on the medical advised tools of face masks, distancing and a safe working environment; this is the only way forward to avoid more harm and more despair for South Africa. Adding a real effort to have enough testing material, hunting down infection hot spots and stopping to abuse the crisis for ideological driven agendas would bring this country back on track and create another new beginning. Covid-19 has shown us that we are all in for it – the virus does not discriminate, but has laid bare the woes of societies. It invites us to open a new chapter of understanding the world and each other and the connectivity between all living. Humility should be the answer, not ideology, common sense, not politics. We can come stronger out of this crisis if we as a society learn the lessons given to us, but for this to happen, we have to get our acts together in a transparent and honest way.  It is up to us to chose wisely – our leaders, our path and our destiny.

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

“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, , , , , , ,

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