God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

“Trotzdem” – Hell no!

I guess those living in South Africa feel the rollercoaster of emotions having experienced not only the continuous lockdown related to Covid-19 but also the looting and burning and destruction which marred KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, leading to a breakdown of public order for a couple of days. A state who definitely failed to protect its citizens and only late intervened; ministers who simply displayed being clueless and not up to the task and incompetent added to the concerns many have about the state of affair in South Africa.

From all is clear, that the fight within the ANC party can and will spill over to society and that party politics simply don’t care about the country, willing to hurt and destroy for the sake of winning the battle of fractions within this party.

And even looking at the latest shuffle of ministers in national government – it is playing musical chairs within the governing party but not the coup starting to liberate South Africa from the claws of corruption, incompetence, cadre deployment or their likes.

For somebody building a campus in the midst of a township offering health and education on a developmental path, the question arises once in a while whether this is worth the effort. What can one achieve in a country, where government and ruling party is in battle with itself, where wannabe revolutionaries steer the flames of racism and clearly advocate violence as a political tool; and where frustration, failed education systems and hopelessness lead to more violence, service delivery protests and actions out of anger and bitterness.

The answer to the question is not easy. On one hand, one could pack and walk away. Another possibility is to stay and reason your efforts with the German word “trotzdem“.

At the heart of “trotzdem” is the word “trotz”, which surely is very German; a harsh word meaning defiance; it triggers the feeling and action of “Hell no!” – I will not do it!
It is basically a somehow stubborn or holy resistance – a resistance to accept the doomsday scenarios while at the same time standing up and offering an alternative way into the future. I personally think it is also a theological word, looking how in the bible – especially in the Old Testament – God is described who never gives up on human mankind.

So building the campus “The Nex – Indawo Yethu” in the township of Delft – a place featuring high on the scale when it comes to crime statistics, unemployment and like often in South Africa a lack of decent education – together with many partners and collaborators and investing in vocational training and health holistically is a social, political and theological statement of “Hell no!”

And strongly believing that it is never too late to turn the tide, to stop cutting the corners of development, to cease cadre deployment and corruption and to liberate society from racism and other woes impeding progress and healing. And a perspective for every decent South African who deserves to live in freedom and security. It needs a network of all those small little places of hope and confidence that life has more to offer than what may experience on a daily basis being kept dependent on handouts and charity.


Filed under: Africa, General, Networking, 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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You are not guilty – transformation thoughts

“You are not guilty about what happened in the past, but you are responsible, that it never happens again” – this free translated quote attributed to Max Mannheimer, a holocaust survivor was an important message for those been born after the end of the “1000-jaehriges Reich”, which also meant the end of killing millions of Jews in that time of the Nazi regime. As a German born after World War II I can relate as even during my time as a child or adolescence there was always that cloud of “you are guilty” of what the older generation had done during the dark times of Germany. We were guilty by association – and traveling through Great Britain or France at that time meant to be verbally victimized at times from those having served as soldiers in World War II or lost loved once…

The quote of Max Mannheimer lifts this burden of attributed and perceived guilt – it transforms the burden of shame into a lesson for the future for all those who were yearning for a society where hate against Jews will never happen again. And it leads also to the distinction between criticizing Israel for its inhumane treatment of the Palestinians and questioning or belittling the holocaust. Israel has very effective played the game of the general guilt of a whole nation including those born much later.

I guess or better I am convinced the statement of Max Mannheimer would also help the South African society – it would stop the entitlement and racism we see also from many young black African people, the so-called “born free”-  holding everybody with the wrong skin color at ransom for what they have not even experienced.  The EFF, BFLF and parts of the ANC and others are playing the card as well – young political leader who have seen the first free election still in diapers or even born later abuse the narrative of apartheid, transformation and compensation for their own political gains.

Transformation in South Africa can only happen if we acknowledge the past without holding the new generation of born free hostage – be it with an ideology or with guilt. We have to draw a line in how we talk and what we demand – and that applies to all and everybody in this country.

We have the task to avoid any further injustice while transforming and compensating the older generation which really suffered. We have to give the new generation the skills within the years of basic education to dream and realize that only the sky is the limit – with knowledge and hard work or study and not corruption, stealing, entitlement – party- or skin-color association.

For this to happen we have to talk much more to each other, listen to each other – in person – not through the veil of social media – but looking each other in the eyes and understanding how it feels to walk in the shoes of the other person. This is not easy, this does not win an election per se, but it is the only way to reconcile, to transform, to create a new society without creating new injustices.

South Africa thought while having Nelson Mandela was president that it is special under the sun. It is not and the hardship and the struggle continues to be proof of it – but we could be becoming special when we – with the right political and social and religious leadership – turning the tide and start to work hard towards a non-racial society where everybody finds the place he or she deserves, because the environment is right to blossom…

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

If I would have a say…

2019 is election year in South Africa and those residing here can already sense the  unease with which political parties and organizations start to get into voting gear – it will be messy and surely deadly for some – violence, intimidation and promises never to be fulfilled will fill the airwaves and the headlines of the newspapers and media outlets.

Being a vocal critic of politicians and movements trying to govern this country I asked myself what would be my priorities if I would have a say – what does this country, this wounded society need in my humble opinion anyhow nobody important is interested in. Nevertheless, who criticizes must also know what he ideally want out of those he takes on – so here is what I think South Africa would need to get going again:

Firstly concentrate and throw lots of money and support into the basic education system while cutting the influence of the teachers union – having the best basic education and making sure that every learner has the best change to attend a school with competent teachers and satisfying facilities should be top priority.

Secondly an initiative to make every company in South Africa to add one employee to train and uplift – tax incentives and other perks could encourage even smaller companies to join such a drive – more people in work and up-skilled – what a benefit for those families and society in general.

A third important focus should be on maintenance – be it water, electricity or other infrastructure  – private-public partnerships and a heightened sense for the importance of maintaining constantly what is available and caters for the basic needs for all citizens.

The health system needs much more attention – not a NHI system which only distributes current failures to a greater audience – but fixing a broken system – health together with education are basics to build up societies and communities.

Entrepreneurship versus entitlement could be the phrase for another initiative to boost the economics already existing in so many suburbs and townships – there are so many clever people out there in the best sense of the word – there is so much goodwill – with the right tools much more could be done to boost economics.

Tackling the ugly face of racism and trying to right the wrongs of the past in a fair way should be high on the agenda – I strongly believe that we shout too much at each other, use social media to express our raw emotions without really listening and falling prey to those in politics abusing those emotions for political gains – places and town meetings for story telling – listening to each other – how much could churches and civil society organization as partners in this be of help in facilitating such story-telling-listening-deeply-events to bring people really together and allow for healing.

Land distribution in a fair manner is important – using also at length first all the land government posses – but acknowledging that most people don’t want to work the land as farmers but have the desire to live in or close by cities.

Together with zero tolerance to corruption, no cadre deployment, a fading out of BBBEE in the current form and strengthening police and the justice system this country could walk with hope into the next years – creating a positive narrative which spins the people and society as such into a gear of productive energy and allowing for dreams to be fulfilled.

Well, I guess this all remains a dream as long as the ruling political party maintains to own the right of ruling the country and others with younger followers abuse the plight of the elderly during apartheid to demand everything while giving nothing back; it is called entitlement or revolution. South Africa lacks in the moment politicians who are real servants of the people and for the people – but there is always the hope that things can change for the better and people with deep love and compassion for this wounded society come to the forefront. Never lose hope.

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

Prolonged Good Friday and hopefully Easter in South Africa

Tomorrow Christians around the world are celebrating Easter – feast of the resurrection. It feels odd to me on first sight as South Africa seems to “enjoy” a prolonged Good Friday experience – crucified by corruption, downgrading, political ignorance, state capture and witnessing an agonizing dead of a liberation movement trying to turn into a political party. And not only on the level of politics and society but also on an personal level Good Friday continues: poverty, lack of food security, high crime rates, xenophobia – maybe this inner connect of a religious celebration and reality brought so many people to churches all over the country yesterday; the sense and recognition of despair and sometimes the knowledge that alone one can’t stem the wave of all this negativity. And South Africa is not alone in this prolonged Good Friday experience when we look around in the global village.

For that very reason the message of Easter, the message of resurrection, the message of hope carried by more than a billion Christians is so important in our days – Easter does not negate or take away the pain of the past or the pain of the present times but it holds the promise of a turnaround and a better future. And more: it speaks not only of a promise but for us Christians it manifests a reality that this turnaround is possible not only in a far away future, but that Easter, that resurrection can and will happen in our days if people just find the courage to act on it, simply to live it.
Easter is not so much the promise of a life after death – it is the promise that things can be turned today – the bible tells multiple stories of people encountering the risen Christ, e.g. on the way to Emmaus and always after such an encounter life is not the same anymore.

Understanding the deeper meaning of Easter frees from many anxieties – it also brings to the forefront that we are at the end all part of one,of the divine – we call it in human language we are brothers and sisters in one family. There is no race except the human race being inter-connected in the divine mystery. The day people understand that we are part of one creation – as the Apostle Paul puts it – still developing through space and times – is the day we will move forward and that will be the day Africa will be rising within the global village.

Easter, the religious message of Easter holds so much for the situation South Africa is in today – and I hope and pray that those attending the Easter celebrations in any of the churches not only are filled with hope but also filled with the energy to heal and transform our South African society for the better – ambassadors of a reality ignited in the midst of darkness.

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

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