God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Sheer irrational government decisions

It happened again – yesterday a court came to the rescue of millions of South Africans trapped into regulations partly defying any common-sense or logic. The North Gauteng High Court declared the rules and regulations of level 4 and current level 3 irrational and set aside – giving government 2 weeks to change the way they conduct business in the Covid-19 crisis.

For somebody, who has questioned sharply the thoughts and authoritarian behaviour of Cele, Mbalula and Dlamini-Zuma, but also other ministers and governmental bodies in the last week it comes not as a surprise, but still as a relief that judges share the sentiment, that many of the rules are arbitrary and serve nothing else than a hidden agenda – but not the fight against Corona or the protection of people.  “Sheer irrational” were the regulations when it came to Corona – sheer rational when you look at it as a tool to satisfy ideology and the temptation of power.

This all adds to the advice of the medical advisory council that our current level does not serve any further health purpose and as Dr Gray spelled it out, even before many rules were simply not justified at all.

The state capture of a different nature we witnessed in the last weeks has been brought to a hold – one day in the future, people will realise how much they own the courts to uphold the constitution and protect them against politicians who with all their greed for power and their feeling for entitlement on so many levels, keeping the masses depending on their handouts.

The new South Africa will only start to prosper when old mechanisms and ideologies are left behind and the ruling party starts to understand themselves as a political party amongst others and not as the masters of South Africa’s destiny with a birthright of power because they contributed heavily to the freedom of all in the country. Truth is: Many forces came together – many sacrifices were made in so many ways – many lives lost – and the greatness of liberators is not measured in the power they keep but the humanity and humbleness with which they serve the people and with the openness for changes in a democratic political system where there is no enemy but a struggle of minds within a clear set of constitutional rules.

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

Too harsh or justified?

People reading my posts often make contact and ask: Are you not judging the situation too harsh? Does it even help the situation?

And my answer is: Seeing the plight of the people in areas HOPE Cape Town works; seeing the anxiety levels of our staff working in the health sector (and the Western Province is still the best) and quite frankly seeing the abuse of a crisis for an advancement of political ideology one cannot stay silent.

I am also aware that I am in a privileged position to voice discontent publicly; a lot of people fear that saying what they want to say would result in disadvantage for them or their families. Therefore, most criticism you find in WhatsApp groups and close-circuit conversations or anonymous on social media.

As a human being I have to be concerned about the hunger, the poverty, the hopelessness and the suffering of my fellow human beings.
As a priest I have to insist on solidarity against power abuse of those in power, I have to keep God’s promise of a life in dignity for all alive in the hearts and minds of the people.
As a political activist I have to insist that democratic rules are followed and neither politicians nor police or military ignore the rule of law and the law of the land.

This pandemic has opened our eyes to see the gaps between most freedom fighters turned politicians and the “normal” people they rule.  The crisis has shown how little South Africans have moved away from Apartheid times in so many instances: the brutality of the military and police in townships and the snitching in the so-called affluent areas give witness to it.
Politicians like Cele, Mbalula and Dlamini-Zuma have made it clear that the ruling party need much more liberation from their own ideology, and the movement will have a long way still to go to really transform into a political party serving the people.

But having said that all: every crisis, every challenge is also an opportunity. And maybe showing these opportunities were in shortage in my blogs in the last weeks.

The opportunity to understand how deeply entrenched the divide within society is when it comes to wealth and poverty – and it is not black / white; this scenario has changed since the introduction of BEE, eloquently used by those in power.
The opportunity to see all the possibilities again, civil society movements can achieve when there is a time of need.
The opportunity to invest more in understanding how democracy is not only a mechanism, but must be filled with the spirit and understanding, it deserves.
The opportunity to really unite letting skin-colour simply not coming into one’s way while assisting hands on.

And lastly how much we depend on each other, as fellow human beings, as a society, but also as a country on the goodwill of others, as citizens of a global village – realising that we are part of creation, the world as such, not master of the universe, but part of something much bigger. It should make us humble – all of us, independent where our place is in society.

A crisis time can also be a time of healing – but for this to happen an honest discourse has to happen, sometimes wounds have to be opened again to heal proper. In a crisis often honesty starts creeping in because there is no time for long discernment.

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

Covid-19 and the temptation of power abuse

There is a lot of praise for the handling of the Covid-19 crisis in South Africa and in the exuberance of most South Africans it is almost a sacrilege to voice concern or criticism or ask question.
If you do so or continue to balance this avalanche of accolade with questions on social media you are asked why negativity seems to be your friend in current times.

We celebrate Freedom Day tomorrow here in South Africa and indeed I feel obliged to voice my concerns and to point out signs which threaten the very freedom we are celebrating in some hours. Crisis always also shows character and ability – the heavy-handed approach of Minister Cele is only one example of clear overreach and his lust to tell people what to do and what not to do. After weeks of draconian measures to combat a virus President Ramaphosa called almost all available military onto the streets before addressing South Africans. There are concerns  by some constitutional law experts that he ignored some constitutional duties while doing so – but be it as it be: on the background on their heavy-handed approach, accusations of overreach and methods defying the bill of rights and the dignity of people it is a worrying sign to watch carefully. Telling in his latest televised speech about the new stage-approach to an end to lock-down he failed to mention the sudden nightly curfew applied; only revealed by Minister Dlamini-Zuma days later.
The promised sale of alcohol from Friday disappeared also within this time frame – and in a manner which would make proud every kindergarten teacher the aforesaid Minister addressed the people of South Africa telling them amongst others, that if they don’t behave, all little perks allowed under level 4 lockdown will be revoked. Followed by Minister Patel who seems to think, that industry and companies can be switched on and off like the switch of a bedside lamp. Again and up to detail South Africans are told what to do and not to do, always under the threat of revoking privilege. Confusion reigns about personal sports activities which ones again were promised – last time from the Minister of Health and voided by the Minister of Police – this time from the President, but put again in question by his minister.

What really triggers concern is the term “Radical Economic Transition”, the president used in his speech, which gave rise to the assumption, that the crisis will be abused for political gains and scores. Listening to and reading news about the Finance Minister now suggesting that Spaza Shops should be run be South Africans only and that restaurants, which don’t have a 50+% of South African employees will not be allowed to open after the lockdown the term ‘new economy’ becomes a dangerous shape. Adding to this is the insistence of the Minister of Tourism, that BEE is the marker for who receives government help in these times of hardship. It seems to me that there is a palpable danger that the Covid-19 crisis is abused for a political agenda.

This would not be unique as we see the same in Hungary, the USA and other countries. Uncertain times and the anxiety of people are a great tool to push through agendas without lots of resistance. In times of crisis, people are so fixated on the threat that they accept the exceptional as the new normal just to get out of the situation. And if the soul of society is looking for rescue, voices of objections or concern are labelled negative, unconstructive or even unpatriotic.

Freedom is hard-earned, democracy is hard work, balancing the values of freedom and democracy against protection and the duty of care of a state is a delicate mission. South Africa is still in transition, the minds of many are not deeply rooted in the new democracy – lots of hearts and minds have still to be convinced that this form of government brings the most advantages for the lives of people.
Also, our government and Members of Parliament often show a contempt to democratic values or playing the rules in a way desecrating them. The ruling party still has to learn that power in a democratic society is no birth right but hard-earned in serving the people as part of a system of separation of powers.

So the temptation of power abuse is real and the warning voices against this temptation are indeed necessary, and they should grow louder in our days. Fear is never a good adviser and mass hysteria neither. Covid-19 reminds us that the human race is not on top of the world but part of the endless battle of evolution within this universe – really nothing new under this sun – new is maybe that this dimension of existence is written into our lives in a digital age much more wittingly than ever before in the history of human mankind. But that can’t be a reason to give up the blessings and freedoms of a democratic society.

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

Democracy – as we know it – is coming to an end?

A lot has been said about the digital revolution and it’s consequences for the future.  And if one thing is clear by now: the digitization of society, the constant connectivity to media, news, fake news and outright manipulation is overwhelming to the normal human being brain – trying to marry most people being in the stone-age of cooping with the mental requirements needed to deal with the influx of information – false and correct ones – has failed so far.
It seems that people cannot distinguish anymore between when and where manipulation starts, bluntly false news are circulated via bots and the honest true reporting of facts. And this leads to a tiredness or even willingness to simply accept whatever fits nicely in the narrow mindset of ones own little world. People are simply overwhelmed and anxious, ready then to submit to the best offer of “black/white” populist solutions.

The rise of the liar, cheater, racist and sexist macho Donald Trump to become the President of the United States speaks volumes about the inability of people to navigate through the new area; the Brexit debate and the re-election of Boris Johnson in Great Britain adds to the insult and attack on truth.
And truth is one of the most important component of democracy: without it – the system will crash. Add the fatigue created by the repetition of lies and fake news, the abuse of social media, the still unhindered power of the Facebook and Google mafia more or less allowing and controlling what one can read and what news one receives first and in which format. Headlines are the new content, emojis and sharing buttons are the new ways to instantly satisfy emotional reactions. The so called social media “shit storm” replaces the “hang him” calls of lynch justice in the “good old days” of undisputed white racist rule of the world, too often echoed and cloned by those previously suppressed.

And this is another battle field – clearly seen if you follow US American politics: the old white men’s club fighting to remain in power at all cost, using trolls and the new weapons of digital media with all the money they have stolen and accumulated in so many years. Eight year Obama was an insult not to be repeated.
Making now Great Britain great again by leaving the European Union – the same scheme of reviving the feelings of the old great empire underlines the debate lead on the island. Overwhelmed people yearning for the good old days of power and might – of safety and security in an ever faster evolving world with more people, more systems and more decisions made which cannot be overseen and triggering anxiety and fear by the single human being. A fertile ground for clever politicians and unscrupulous leaders.

Democracy and human rights are on the defense right now, civil rights, so long and hard fought for, are in retreat mood – and while the Western World battles in the aforesaid  ways, there is a new and even more dangerous threat to all achievements of civil and non racist societies:
China’s fantasy of harmony – going hand in hand with complete control of every human being; establishing a system far worse than Orwell ever could have fantasized about: the system of social points as a system of reward and punishment, 24/7 control via cameras – seeing in action by the treatment of the Uyghurs – all this giving clear indication what complete surveillance means by a gang of politicians prescribing how you have to live and to die. History later will value high the contribution of the Hong-Kong students who fought not only for their freedom, but the freedom of so many more on this planet.

So where does this leaves us? I guess with a lot of questions to answer. I feel we are in the same situation like after the discovery of the atom-bomb: human mankind played with it in in so dangerous ways thinking of it as a tool of advance. Those in power used it on innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and only afterwards humanity started to understand the ethical implications with which we are still dealing in our days. It takes a lot of time to do so.

Democracy as we know it will have to change if with the advances of new technologies and the digital possibilities – the ways we organize societies, the way we disseminate information and allowing people in power to communicate in a globally connected world in an ethical and just format has to be on trial. Our thinking, our acting, our living conditions, our sense for the world has changed dramatically and it is time to catch up with this development before real disaster struck out of the incapability to acknowledge and act on these changes. But one thing remains: The truth must be the underlying factor of all developments.

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

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