God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Time to change tune

Listening to Police Minister Cele about non-deserving South Africans, because they don’t behave; sitting through announcements by Dlamini-Zuma feeling a deja-vu of your primary school and absorbing the somehow wicked logic of Patel:
South Africans have to endure at the moment a lot of moments where the good-will of giving time for government to prepare for an influx of Covid-19 cases vanishes with raised speed.
The outcry of politicians following the first 3 hours, where South Africans were allowed out for exercising in the early hours of May first were remarkable. Potentially 58 Million are allowed after 5 weeks of lockdown to walk and jog from 6 to 9 am – parks and beaches are still closed to the public – and those, who anyhow can walk around as it pleases them, are upset about the liberty taken to use the time.
The Western Province government with Premier Alan Winde rightly pointed out that common sense was missing looking at the directive forcing those millions to go out in the dark hours of the morning to get some fresh air.

I have written about the shadows of the past, haunting our present existence, and they explain some of what is happening. Seeing the long queues of people flocking sometimes in the thousands to receive a food parcel is a sign how desperate people are. While physical distancing is in such cases not an option it underlines the situation most South Africans are in at the moment: hungry, without income, depending on hand-outs of NGO’s and governmental agencies.  The pictures we see speak volumes of the dignity lost even more than before the crisis.

Looking at all of this and the mechanisms driving the process there is a real danger that the rule of democracy and its values are eroded. Applying BEE on state assistance, even if after the court decision legally permissible, is such a sign that the very values of the new democratic South Africa has no say any more in the times of need. South Africa indeed has now the taint of being unique in denying assistance based on race. 7 million jobs will be gone if the predictions are correct – and still: ideology trumps any concern for job conservation. This is bad news going forward and it shows lip-service of many politicians when they proclaim that South Africa is for all South Africans.

It is time to change tune: it must be clear that in the new South Africa every person, whose livelihood is in danger,  is eligible for governmental support. And instead of threats and petty rules people should be encouraged to prepare and think of opening up the economy again with jobs saved and new ones created. Instead of scare tactics we need encouragement  and a light at the end of the tunnel, instead of numbers throwing around and unclear data resources we need more transparency and honesty.
The people of South Africa gave government five weeks to prepare for climbing numbers of infections – now is the time to show that they used the time wisely besides fighting cigarettes, alcohol and roasted chickens.

Climbing numbers of infections – often touted by newspaper headlines and politicians as the most important information of the day – are not really news as this is how a pandemic works. The real questions are: How high is the ratio of infection? How many of the infected really need special care? How many tests are done and are we able to identify clusters? I think the Western Cape is on the right track here – testing and catching those in contact with an infected person is the key for opening the economy and providing so for those in need of work and income.

Changing the tune means to stop handing out food parcels and degrading the dignity of people but opening up work spaces again with the necessary prudence – but also knowing, that this virus will stay with us for the years to come – and holding off till the pandemic is gone is simply not an option.
Changing the tune means to take people with you as a politician and not to treat them like school-kids or stupid youngsters. Transparency and honesty is the key – as long as people sense politics behind decisions the goodwill of people will vanish into thin air.
It is not the time for ideology, racism or scoring points – its time for decency, humanity and hard work for the so often quoted “our people”.

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

South Africa on the edge – and why NGO’s are in this time so important

We have to be honest: Corruption, the inability of freedom fighters turned politicians, sheer greed and no time to develop proper political and social leadership under the pressure and expectations of the new dawn – all those factors have brought South Africa on the edge of disaster – painted nicely in very dark colors yesterday with declaring “Stage 6” of load shedding. A very nice word for mismanagement as well as non existing or minimal maintenance by Eskom officials and the result of a transformation policy kicking out institutional knowledge and beefing up manpower far more than the operations necessitate.

It is felt like a time of crisis, a time of anxiety and a time where people and society feels left alone fighting forces on a daily base they can’t influence – being at the mercy of irrational SOE’s and broken services deliveries and somehow a very bleak future.
In such times the power of NGO’s and civil society organizations are coming to the front: they are often the rescue net for many ordinary citizens – they are able to give hold and a perspective for those feeling powerless, they are passing on the small flame of hope – in the darkness of load shedding a small flame has indeed the power to light up and guide the way.
In such times it becomes clear that politics alone can’t solve a countries problems or cover all the missteps done in the past. Non-governmental organizations, volunteers and all those forces for good are the stabilizing factors making sure that the social fabric of society is not completely broken.

Such times may be a wake-up call for the future that politics recognize more than ever before the need to develop a culture of cooperation, of reliable partnerships to strengthen the service delivery people are deserving on a daily base. In South Africa this culture is still in its infancy – often one has the impression that NGO’s are gap-filler or paid cheap sub-contractors of state entities not living up to the promises of past elections. It is time to elevate those relationships onto an eye-to-eye level.

At the end state entities and NGO’s are serving the same people – they are called to support the dignity of every citizen and enable him / her to live life to fullest as guaranteed by the constitution and the Bills of Rights.

NGO’s can’t replace government run services, but they complement and at times like ours even cushion lack of service and soften the anxiety and fear attached to it. In doing so they also cushion and influence the picture, in this case South Africa is giving to the rest of the world. All a reason more to realize how important NGO’s are in our times.

 

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

Durban2016 – a reflection on the World Aids Conference

durbanTomorrow ends the World Aids Conference in Durban – most probably the same way it started, with lots of encouraging words and hopes held high: treatment for all, equity, justice and equal treatment for those on the margins of the so-called society.

It was a week full of talks, presentations, encounters – a week full of demands, pleas, promises and a concert of different voices: researchers, activists, business people – all wanting to have a share and a say in the biggest HIV related global conference, taking place every two years.

The magic year 2020 and the numbers 90 – 90 – 90 were repeated and mentioned over and over: 90 % of the infected people should know their status; from those knowing 90% should be on treatment – and from those on treatment 90% should be undetectable.
Another magic year named very often was 2030 – the aimed end of the Aids pandemic.

But let’s be honest: all the tears, pleas and promises could not hide the fact: as the world stands today, we will not reach this goal. 16 out of 37 million people are in the moment on treatment – and the Global Aids Fund lacks promised money to reach all of the ones in need of treatment. The so-called “war on terror”, the financial crisis, the madness of politics let made financial pledges degrade into empty promises. The gap between what governments have pledged, what is needed and what they finally pay into the global fund is going into millions of US Dollars.

And it is not the lack of money – besides the madness of war and terror, perceived or real – it is the assumption that we have the Aids pandemic under control. It seems forgotten that every year 2 million new infections are still counted and 1 million people perish as a consequence of HIV, Aids and related illnesses.

But even the future looks bleak – conferences like this are needed: they serve as a public reminder of the injustice of poverty, sickness and premature death and the responsibilities of governments and public health sectors. They also bring people together one would not meet otherwise.
In South Africa without the activism we still would be told that HIV does not cause Aids and that antiretroviral treatment kills. Only activism, toi-toi and conferences as well as taking the government to court as civil society brought the much-needed results. But we should never forget those having died because Manto Tshabalala Msimang and others fought against common sense for a far too long time.

I am grateful that this conference brought me together with gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex people, with male and female sex workers and with drug users – encounters without the moral pointing finger – it was about meeting other human beings with their struggles like I have my struggles. It was about listening and giving everybody dignity and space to talk, to share, to explore, to feel loved and accepted. How much could also the churches learn from such encounters – understanding that the world is much more diverse and colorful than most allow themselves to accept in their small little world of daily and religious life.

Conferences like this also help to deepen the understanding of HIV and its related problems, it gives the chance to celebrate successes, mourn failures and last but not least to feel not alone in the battle against a deadly syndrome. 18 000 people from all over the world, united in an ongoing battle to save lives, to demand access to treatment, to put the fingers on human rights abuses and inhumane and unjust laws hindering our fellow brothers and sisters to live life to the fullest.

Conferences like this are energizing – they liberate one from the narrow views one automatically have working day in and day out in the same social and cultural environment – for me as a priest they open up to what “catholic” really means in the full sense of the word.

Churches are praised for their active role in the fight, but they are not very much appreciated when it comes to legal matters or global or national policy decisions. The anti-gay laws in Nigeria, the questions of sexual orientation and the women’s rights in matters reproduction are contentious issues which impact clearly also onto the fight against HIV and Aids. Sometimes it seems that moral considerations overshadow the life-and-death consequences, such stances have on grassroots level.
And obviously the long stance of my own church regarding condoms did not help either – and it took Benedict XVI’s interview to start open up this question in his acknowledgment, that if a male escort uses a condom to protect his customer it is the beginning of morality.

So lastly conferences like this put the finger on open questions, on answer demanding questions, they make the bridge between teaching, sciences, research, religion, faith and real life palpable and it’s the conversation between all parties which could bring solutions adequate to the life of the ordinary person plagued by all the challenges on a daily base.

So thank you to the organizers of the conference for making it possible once again to meet, to greet, to exchange, to laugh together, to learn together, to fight together, to discern together, to disagree with each other in the quest of the best answer possible.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Farewell “Christliches” Abendland (Christian Occident)

Arriving back from Europe with lots of fond memories about the HOPE Gala in Dresden and all the other great events I have had the pleasure to participate or contribute, I can’t help but feel a very deep unease regarding the so-called refugee crisis I have seen first hand and the reaction of my German brothers and sisters. Knowing that we Germans always have been blind on the right eye it is nevertheless appalling to see how many people suddenly shift their emotions and reactions loudly into a corner of anxiety and protection of the so-called German identity. History seems suddenly to be static – as if the present state of affair has always been and will always be the only one possible. Creatio ex nihilo – Germany existed since eternity and is now overrun – historic developments never took place… ?

The idea of Europe was officially founded on values like human dignity and human rights and a decent life for all, but it seems in practice it was all about finances and markets but not about people. While the “Christian roots” of Germany and Europe are mentioned at every demonstration against those fleeing to Europe, practically the value of welcoming the stranger, especially the one searching refuge seemed to be scrapped from the holy book and it’s heritage. There are too many coming, I hear again and again.
And yes, I do agree, there are indeed many coming, but has nobody been able to read the signs prior to the stream of desperate people building up in recent months? Has nobody noted that selling weapons and looking on while a country is completely destroyed in the case of Syria can’t go together for long? Has Germany thought with the Dublin agreement that Lampedusa and all other places in the South of Europe will remain nicely far away from the German way of life? Has nobody noted that cutting the funds for the refugees of the Syrian civil war in Jordan has given them no other chance than either dying in Jordan or trying their luck somewhere else?

It is appalling how especially people in politics carrying the “christian” and “social” label in their party name suddenly seems to have episodes of Alzheimer when it comes to all those hard questions – and there are many more to ask. And no, lets clarify that also: it’s not about being a “Gut-Mensch”, a softy wanting to do always good. It is about the question how ethical it is to have built up wealth by exploiting other countries, earning money on weapons sale, giving Sunday sermons in Parliament and then declaring practically that human dignity only is afforded to those who had the luck to be born in Europe. It’s about an attitude of the rich and mostly white West which touches ground with and is related to the discrimination of black people or South American refugees in the USA. It simply touches on the often outspoken discomfort, African people have when they deal with Europe – somehow related to skin color.
But it obviously also touches on the very basic fact that world politics seemingly dictates the European support for incompetent autocrats or dictators in developing countries as long as they keep quiet about the exploitation taking place or even are complicit to it.

The refugee crisis is a watershed for Germany and for the united Europe – and if they not find adequate and humane answers it will proof again that human mankind has still a long way to go before it recognizes how much it is interlinked, depend on each other and cannot afford to build walls and fences but must invest in the dignity of every human being. Otherwise let’s bid a final farewell to our European Christian roots.

 

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

08.05.2010 Is it murder?

I just read: Since 500 years the people of the South, 4.9 billion people are dominated by the Caucasians of Europe and later North America, which are 24.6% of the world population. Those quarter defines our world trade system. The consequences: Every 5 seconds a child under the age of 10 is dying of hunger. Every day we can add 47 000 people dying of hunger in the world. More than 1 billion are suffering of malnutrition. And the numbers are rising.

According to the UNO, we can produce worldwide food for 12 billion people, far more than we have in the moment.. Lets face it: If we don’t do,what we can do, if we accept a world trade system and a finance system producing such numbers of dying and death people: this is murder, as we are all able to know the consequences of our system.The dignity of every human person is untouchable…  who is really believing in this statement?

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

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