God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

When incompetence meets ignorance

When incompetence meets ignorance, normally there are consequences – and the changes in the entry regulations for Germany regarding people coming from areas with virus variations are an example of dire consequences for business people, investors and frankly those in South Africa, who are not able any more to sustain themselves.

Germany has changed the entry rules for mutant variation areas: India, Great Britain, Portugal are suddenly only High Incidence Areas while South Africa, the SADEC region and Brazil remain closed for non-Germans and to add hurt to insult, prescribes 14 days of quarantine without the possibility of early testing to be able to move on.

Obviously, everybody affected is screaming at Germany, but to be fair, one has to take a step back to appreciate the situation in its entirety. One has to admit, that the national government of South Africa failed its people a great deal. The vaccine procurement disaster, the corruption and stealing of Covid-19 relief money, a suspended national Minister of Health and a Minister of Tourism with questionable credentials now running the show, the attempt to use the lockdown to progress on a left ideology and the continued disaster produced on all levels using cadre deployment policy did not and currently does not help to remedy the situation. There seems to be no trust in Europe in the ability of South Africa’s ruling party to contain the virus – and all the nice pictures of Ramaphosa in Great Britain recently can’t change this. Political pleasantries for TV never automatically mean realities behind the curtain.

On the other hand, preventing fully vaccinated people from South Africa with in Europe approved vaccines to travel to Germany and to sentence Germans coming back to 14 days quarantine is clearly not a balanced approach and shows an ignorance which results in discrimination. It does also not appreciate the fact, that measures should be balanced between rational necessities and the freedom guaranteed by the German constitution. Looking at statistics, Germany has meanwhile predominately infections with the Delta variant. To open up for India and Great Britain where this variant is also dominant, but refuse to do the same for South Africa and other Southern African countries has the taste of bias, old school thinking and ignorance.

Even if obviously Germany comes first for Germans, to add to more downfall of the economy of another country – and we have to recall that even when South Africa had an incidence rate of 11 – no South African was allowed to travel to Germany- there should be more considerations and not only lip-service.

The current situation and rules are not helpful, they discriminate against those doing business, having job offers or study permits, they disrupt the lives of many without a balanced approach. They ignore negligently the already dire situation of many living in South Africa and those in Germany who would like to keep a lifeline with this African country.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, SA-German Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

The sound of silence

I don’t know how you as the reader have experienced the last 14 months – for me, I can say I have had times when silence was the only answer I could give to all the challenges I saw appearing on a daily basis.

There was the challenge of the small little bug threatening to disrupt life in a massive way – so many things we took for granted were suddenly gone – and the freedoms we naturally enjoyed curtailed in ways not seen in my lifetime. And as much as it made sense in the beginning, there was always that voice of concern that democracy and civil rights seemed to be very vulnerable and the abuse of power by politicians a real opportunity.

Covid-19 also was the mirror where humanity could see all the failures, gaps and injustices it got so much used to; the vaccination story tells us about a still colonial mindset on both parts – those in the first world donating freely after securing their very own, but also the begging of African leaders while hiding the failures of their own doing, corruption and incompetence. For South Africans, the Covid-19 story will always be connected to a mind-boggling corruption not leaving out the Minister of Health and the department, tasked to save lives and not to play with them. But also Germany had its scandals in this regard; the temptation of power and money is universal…

Having to travel in the midst of a pandemic and often to deal with unreasonable rules and people, who seemingly have lost their minds in theories on COVID-19 and vaccination defeating any reason and departing from the possibility of meaningful discussion, adds fuel to the challenges on the road. The frustration of people and the trauma caused by all the lockdown rules will accompany us for a long time to come.

As a church person the ongoing discussions over child abuse, the refusal of many within the church to understand the depth of hurt and the cheer unbelievable clinging to power in Diocese of Cologne as an example simply added to the rollercoaster of feelings in the last month. Covid-19 has obviously put churches and their relevance for society on the spot – and we can expect more discussions on this topic as we go forward.

Obviously, as chair of the HOPE Cape Town Trust building a campus in the midst of a pandemic where funders and sponsors are fighting for their own survival has its own challenges; still, I am encouraged by the willingness of many to continue support and to encourage in all ways possible. For me, this goodwill is indeed a counterforce to all challenges mentioned.

The sound of silence – being able to switch of all the noise and to withdraw into the silence of your very own, to listen to the whisper of your inner voice confirming who you are and what you stand for – and what really counts in life – this might be the only point of reference to conquer the challenges of our times.

I strongly believe that you can find a meaning or a teaching or a hint or a message in any situation if you are able and willing to go back to your own roots and convictions. Covid-19 might be a great teacher in this regard. There is a chance that we as individuals come out much stronger than we thought – and this strength can be used to contribute to the well-being of society and humanity.

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

Travelling in Covid-19 times

Queuing for an antigen test is an almost daily exercise

“Yes, a valid antigen test has to be provided every 48 hours”, so the receptionist when I tried to check into my next hotel. “But” he continued, my 24-hour-old test from another province does not count. And no, no room without this test – and obviously I should consider myself lucky that after an 8-hour drive there is still almost an hour to go before the testing centre in town closes its doors and I have to sleep in my car… Lucky me!

Breakfast – well officially business travellers are allowed to have buffet in the breakfast room and tourists not, but I get explained that it is easier to deny everybody the breakfast room – then they don’t have to ask who is falling under which category. Makes sense – and you can pick up your paper back at reception- whatever is in you eat…

Federalism means every province or “Bundesland” does make its own little rules – what is allowed in one city is not allowed in another city; one learns as one goes along. This applies also for the antigen testing: in one city it can only be done via throat swap, the next insists of nasal exploration – and here, where I am currently, both must be done. Not to forget that every testing station has its own system of catching data – and they don’t talk to each other – app spaces are getting tight on the cell-phone.

But besides all this I should be lucky to travel – even I have to admit that it is at times difficult to understand the reaction of my fellow Germans – frustrated by months after months of lockdown, bad weather and closed shops and restaurants. This is changing now: I can vouch that the outside restaurant facilities can be used as a new main attraction – mainly by appointment and with a fresh 24-hour antigen test – and I can tell you: sitting in the rain under a sun umbrella, water slowly congregating where you sit or creeping slowly on head or shoulders is fun – especially if you add wind and cold to it. Yes, Germany has changed….

What frightens me most is hearing about policing each other, neighbours calling the police if you have too many visitors and the divide between those, who obey religiously and those opposing the measures as “Querdenkers” or alike. It almost feels like my travel in the USA during Trump times – a deep divide with no room for the middle ground.

I honestly don’t know exactly what to make out of it – and if there are really lessons to be learned for the future. Most people talk about those lessons – but somehow I have the feeling that everybody is simply yearning for the good old times which ended in March 2020 with the first lock-downs.

Like in South Africa, also in Europe democracy took a hit and the easiness to degree new rules and control citizens is in itself worth a reflection. I guess we all realised how quick in current times liberties can be revoked; hard fought for rights can disappear overnight and how vulnerable our systems are: economically and democratically.

Suddenly, the yellow vaccine passport becomes the new ticket to freedom of movement – and as it is with the so-called “South African mutant” hysteria can cut off people indefinite or put restrictions on them which are neither reasonable nor conductive to human rights and business between countries. There is so much needing more consideration and less anxiety; there is so much which needs adherence to reason and not assumptions.

A last observation is that certainly those who have less in this world are again the losers of the pandemic – inequality remains rampant and the run of the first world towards vaccines while fending off those outside is a clear indication that human mankind continues to fall short to understand, that in some questions and challenges we are all in together as humans.

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

Travel woes

Trying to travel in the times of Covid-19 becomes more and more a nightmare, especially when you come from a so called high-incidence area like South Africa – where the incidence of currently 11.9 and a recovery rate of over 95% constantly is obviously a major threat to European countries dealing with incident rates average between 100 and 300. It is an interesting experience to be a pariah of the world, only because South Africa did something right – which is seldom enough in our days – namely sequencing the existing virus genomes and making the world aware of a mutation which popped up in other countries as well and threatens e.g. with its 1% occurrence in Germany obviously this country in its core.

Trying to reach Europe from Cape Town is becoming a nightmare: airlines stop flying and entry is practically not allowed for those coming from the danger zone of open restaurants, hotels, shops and with level 1 lockdown almost normal life adhering to hygiene, masks in public and distance keeping.

But seriously:

The Robert-Koch-Institute in Germany keeps South Africa on all danger lists possible since last year – and till now only a court in Baden-Württemberg has dared to state, that this institute has not provided any valid reason for asking local governments in Germany to enforce extended quarantine for people returning from South Africa.

Those daring to fly to South Africa suddenly realise how politics can paint a picture of a country which has nothing to do with reality. Politics, which destroys without any visible regret a very important sector of South Africa’s economy, namely tourism, and pushes the country even deeper into trouble on many levels.

Fear and trying to be a Nanny state dictates currently German politics – add to it the urge to always have a perfect solution for a problem and inventing rules for it, then you have the perfect mix for disaster looming. Listening to those in charge you get the impression that they really think they can beat a pandemic. You simply can’t do this -you have to live with it – and you have to find ways to counter it in a way which balances the freedom of people and the needs of a healthy democracy with the threat posed by the virus.

Looking at the vaccine drives and the distribution of vaccines in the world, there is the other assumption for which Europe is falling: vaccinating their own people first will help. The pandemic is only under control if the virus is kept at bay all over the world at the same time. There is no first winner – even trying to curb travel will not lead to the final goal of co-existing with the virus on a level not really being a threat to humans.

Pandemics are a serious threat for human mankind and the systems, humans are working within; anxiety and fear are definitely not the best advisors nor is it to look only at virology for answers. Social sciences, the psychological impact as well as the economic impact are as important to balance and listen to. Time to reconsider as well as to reflect what governments are obliged to do and where the individual citizen remains in charge of his or her own destiny. Our highly complex societies and their interactions need different answers as we are currently able to give.
And like it or not:
Despite the failure regarding the vaccine story and the attempts to abuse the pandemic for political gains and transformation, for the time being South Africa handles the pandemic better than Europe.

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

Fool’s Day – on a serious note…

Today, 1st of April is “Fool’s Day” – a day known to be littered by the attempt to trick somebody in believing something which is factually wrong – a hoax so to speak. So people are fooled in what they see or hear. And maybe this year there are reasons for reflecting more seriously on the meaning of this day:

Looking at the world of today – I can only say that it seems Fool’s Day is a permanence in our days – certainly for different reasons in different areas but nevertheless a continuum of notice. Some examples of note:

Starting in South Africa: Listening to the ANC NEC decision about Ace Magashule – South Africans are certainly taken for a ride looking at the long time, a political Mafioso and an accused corrupt politician remained and now remains in power for the next 30 days – the damage this man and his fraction has done is substantial and no ordinary citizen would be afforded the same kindness.

Staying by kindness and looking at the Zondo Commission and former President Jacob Zuma – again no ordinary citizen would be afforded to ignore and even attack a legal entity continuously and avoid consequences for so long; let alone justice for bringing South Africa to the knees in his time on the helmet of the state. But obviously it is difficult for a party which has lived beyond the expiry date in the current shape to insist that the law takes it course.

Vaccines are another topic were not only but also South Africa has a share in a prolonged Fool’s Day. Recall the President and the Minister of Health with all tamm-tamm and glory inspecting the arriving more than a million vaccines which consequently were not good enough? Mix this with a small study making headlines in South Africa from an academic, who changed stance within weeks when it was too late and politics had decided to throw away the lifeline for people in the third wave, and you got a good take on a Fools Day episode.

And then a President and Minister of Health suddenly turned into frontline health care worker to get the jab and jumping queue in a phase III trial of J&J now baptised phase one roll-out?

Meanwhile, South Africa is on the back burner still waiting to see the advent of a roll-out while the chair of the MAC for vaccines tries desperately to justify the not justifiable, arguing in an opinion piece in a way contradicting himself.

But staying with Covid-19 and the fall-out: Europe and my home country Germany also keeps Fool’s Day alive. Germany continues to ban South Africans to enter the country and those Germans who make it from South Africa must go in prolonged quarantine – an incidence rate of 12.9 is more dangerous than one of hundred and more – and a mutant, which is only discovered in South Africa but present also in other countries is taken as a reason for the unreasonable political decision. Only one High Court in the province of Baden -Württemberg has meanwhile ruled that this does not make sense. But this non-sense continues to keep South Africans from travelling to almost all European countries and even further up to the Seychelles. There everybody is welcome now for holidays except those coming from South Africa.

But even if you would be able to arrive in Germany – the confusion of what is allowed or not allowed in different parts of the country is mind-boggling – the forward and again backward decisions are beyond comprehension let alone common sense. With all appreciation of a difficult situation politicians find themselves in – what’s happening now is damage to democratic rule and the understanding, that a state is not the nanny for its citizens. Serious questions to be asked when this Fool’s Day time has come to an end.

In the USA – the four-year prolonged Fool’s Day has somehow come to an end – but judgement is still out how it changed the nation of the free or let’s say perceived free. Having said that, the last four years allowed other countries like Russia and China to explore this Day in many ways which harms life, democracy and the freedoms and civil rights, people have fought for and paid with blood in this world.

Lastly looking at my own church: the answer of the Vatican when it comes to blessings of same-sex partnerships also feels for many as a Fools Day joke with a very bitter taste. And the public reaction especially in Germany shows that people are not able and willing to accept this any further. And yes, even the handling of child abuse in the Catholic Church as seen in Cologne had and has the feeling that people were taken for a ride and those who had endured abuse were not really taken serious enough as this topic would require.

Reflecting on all those issues in the context of Fool’s Day maybe requires more than ever what we celebrate on Sunday in my church: Easter – salvation – experiencing a touch of freedom from all those things which don’t take us serious – leading us into a new chapter where we tackle in respect before each other the challenges of life and keeping – or returning Fools Day as a one-day occurrence of light-hearted jokes making us laugh and not cry.

And as Catholics there is a German tradition on Easter: During the sermon on Easter Sunday, the priest has to tell a joke and make the people laugh – they call it the Easter laughter….

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

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