God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

South Africa: the role of churches in the times of uncertainty

For people in South Africa, 2019 will mark again the time, when elections are due and with hundreds of parties already registered the fight for parliamentary seats – associated with power and money and influence – it begins to show its ugly face in so many ways. The biblical promises of a land where milk and honey are streaming is taken by countless politicians and taken to a society which is penetrated by a seemingly unsolved past, accusations of racism, insufficient quality of education, corruption, incompetence, cadre deployment and economical stagnation – a list which could be continued for a longer time.
The fabric of society has huge cavities and distrust, the question of compensation and entitlement lingers in the air and one only has to look at the neighboring Zimbabwe to see where it could end.

And I ask myself: what is the role of the church in such uncertain times? When I look around churches are covering the fields of moral and ethics – they fight against what they perceive threats against God’s will for the people – some churches play with the people and promise heaven on earth and proclaiming the “gospel of wealth” – not to speak from all those charlatans who simply abusing educated and uneducated people for financial gain. The field is very mixed, but let us concentrate on the main stream churches and those serious about building faith.

From my point of view and seeing what I see the most important task in 2019 would be to become a safe space for telling stories, for bringing people of all walks of life and all skin colors together to really and deeply listening to each other and so repair the fabric of society and allow for healing. I truly believe that being a conduct for understanding each other, walking in the shoes of each other, seeing with the eyes of the other would be service to this country. No discussion about race or racism, no debate about politics, no lectures what we have to do or not to do –  but listening to each other in a safe and structured way – sharing life and receiving life – being the place of encounter and healing.

If every parish, every religious community would start to become such a place of listening, healing and true encounter it could present that kind of coming together without any hidden agenda our society needs to develop a future where nobody is left behind. And being such a place does not cost anything – no expensive technical apparatus, no big resources, maybe some training for those leading such coming together.

The churches serving as sacred grounds for healing – this is in my view the most important task in the times of uncertainty. And it does not have to be big groups or the masses – like leaven will pockets of healing grow and change at the end distrust in trust, confrontation in understanding – and so allow also for a redress which is fair and open to the future for all.

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

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, , , , , , , , , , ,

State of the Nation Address

Yesterday was the big day – the state of the nation address was delivered by President Jacob Zuma – a colorful event and full benches – everybody seems to have the urge to show off their importance and what’s best in the wardrobe at home. Tastes and styles are indeed different, but important was what the President had to say about the state of the nation.
Experiencing service delivery protests all over the country, being plagued by mining strikes, a free-falling rand at times, scandals like Gupta, Nakandla and so much more, one would have expected a speech facing the realities and encouraging the people and politicians to tackle these obstacles and showing light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe too much expectations.
What I heard was a summary of 20 years one party rule  – only striving on some of the issues without addressing them proper or offering any solution. The repeated promised for millions of jobs sounded empty – to bring the service delivery protests in connection with success of the ruling party, so that only those not attended to are protesting was somehow genius and unbelievable at the same time.
HIV was mentioned – the words “resistance” and “cracking health system” I didn’t hear nor did I hear about the plight of TB especially in the Western part of the country.
I asked myself how a president perceived to be corrupt can talk about rooting out corruption. I hoped to hear that word “Wingfield” and housing to acknowledge that since years the government stalls efforts to give national land away for housing projects of the province.
I must say, I was disappointed about the performance, contents and tone was at no time encouraging – it sounded like the German slogan “weiter so” – just continuation of the situation as is as there is anyhow nobody else who could take over.
The state of the nation address is about a government set into a democratic onset – I would have expected some words about the working of parliament, how democracy can be developed further and that stones in the hand of protesters are no valid arguments to avoid other parties toi-toi.
So according to the President the last 20 years period of time was a success story – which is in part true as the country has not encountered civil war or similar. But maybe it was not because of the government but despite the government. I acknowledge that governing in our world coming from a liberation and struggle background may be tough and mistakes are made. But why did I not hear any meaningful reflection on what might be wrong, why not admitting that there are challenges ahead we only can solve if all spheres of government and all political players, be it the ruling party or the opposition plays its role.
As a president it is his task to encourage people of the country to go for more democracy and to explain that violence is not a political argument.
Let’s face it: the country is in turmoil in the moment – also attributed to election time – and it feels there are more challenges than achievements. Even if this is just a feeling, it would have been nice to be addressed. I had the feeling that we saw a President who will have to struggle to survive the next 5 years in office. The coming time will be full of surprises, but there is no doubt that on the 7th of May the ANC will win again the majority.

Working in the fields of HIV and AIDS, which has had its success stories in the last years without doubt, we need an environment where those stories can succeed and new ones added. For that we need a stable country, less corruption also in the health sector and an end to service deliver protests which stops people from attending clinics and taking their life saving medications. We need proper housing outside wetlands to prevent TB and proper sanitation to avoid Cholera, Typhus and other diseases. So politics plays a vital role for the health of its citizen and for an NGO, the rule of law and a proper partnership with the state authorities based on mutual understanding and not just “like and dislike depending on party affiliation” is needed.

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

Every struggle hero a good politician?

The ANC manifesto will tell South Africans exactly who to vote for, says President Jacob Zuma and I guess he means it. He means it differently as I or others will understand it. And I have to admit that elections in South Africa posses tough choices. The problem of the ANC is a problem also churches face: Glorifying the past and telling people how good one has been at times does not qualify for office in these times. Or to phrase it differently: Not every struggle veteran is a good politician – what wisdom could the ANC gain if they would acknowledge and honor those having been in the struggle but also being honest that most of them not qualify to run a country or a province. This assessment is does not lack respect – the opposite is the case: one respects the achievements while acknowledging the limitations. Every period of time needs people up to tasks of the specific time. It’s up to an organization to acknowledge that and up to the wisdom of people concerned to step aside as “honored elderly”. Because this is not happening in South Africa and only people in line with any statement made by the senior officials and struggle heroes can climb up the carer ladder we are in the predicament as it unfolds today. Exactly because of that, “Malemas” can rise and try to destroy even more the future of South Africa.
The ANC will rule forever says the president and shows very bluntly, that he has not understood what democracy means. It is not about a party – it is about honoring those who brought freedom and give this generation the chance to develop a country by democratic means and with the eduction and freedom attached which is needed to develop into a healed and healthy society.

The South African society needs healing more than anything else – and even for that we need people able to heal instead of singing struggle songs and showing clearly that they are not willing to see this as their proud history with no prominent role in our days. And no, I am not anti ANC at all – I really hope that this party, like also others by the way, can meet that transformation for the better good of the people. Because only then the state will function without corruption; only then health services and fundamental service deliveries will take place in a fashion suitable and acceptable for the masses. Only then politicians will understand that they serve the people and not themselves and their families – only then people in power don’t have the urge to compensate for lost gains in the times of struggle.

History comes in chapters – it’s time that we allow for a new chapter, memorizing the past without letting ourselves and our action been poised by the blame game. Only reconciliation and healing will bring the future. So once again: let’s honor the heroes of the struggle and let’s form a new generation of politicians able to overcome the divide plaguing our country years into democracy.

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

South Africa not in good shape but there is still hope

Christmas time and New Year, also time for the matric results to be published and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will praise the improvement of the pass rate from 60,6% in 2009 to 76,6% in 2013. Not spoken will be about the grim realities surrounding this result:
* The low pass rate: pupils must achieve 40% in their home language and in two other subjects, and a minimum of 30% in the remaining subjects. They can fail in only one of their seven subjects.
* Extra exams for tertiary education: more and more universities ask for extra entrance or literacy tests and compulsory enhancement programs because they do not trust the matric certificate.
* Drop outs at school level: the total number of matric pupils who write the exams is half of those starting education – the other half is gone, be it through economic difficulties or for other personal or social reasons.
* Drop outs at University level: over 50% of those starting to study will not graduate, so a report of the Council for Higher Education chaired by Professor Njabulo Ndebele
It seems like in many other instances that the assessment of realities tend to differ sharply in South Africa and it is not only the fire pond baptized swimming pool of Nkandla. 20 years into democracy this society has not found its feet somehow and is still struggling to meet the dreams of those being liberated with the end of Apartheid.
I am not thinking South Africa is doomed to fail but I hear and notice things which indicates that there is still room for improvement in many ways and I don’t mean the remaining high crime rate, the lack of service delivery, worker unions which want to be government, representation of workers and capitalists at the same time, Malemas and there-likes  etc. Coming from Germany, where I was born in a city where US Americans ran a major airbase in Europe, in my childhood “black people” were rich people because they had the dollars. Moving to South Africa I learned how different worlds can be and I had to adjust to open and hidden conflicts between races and ethnic groups on a level not known before. Even thinking that I keep an open mind and a hopeful outlook, I catch me out at times to have doubtful thoughts indicating a deeper problem: Driving often to Parklands Mainroad I see all those youngsters standing there waiting to be picked up for a day’s job. Often I thought, it would be nice to employ somebody when help is needed but one reads so much about crime and spying out opportunities that I simply don’t have the courage to stop and give one of them the livelihood for today. It shows how deep mistrust is sewed into the heart and mind of people including me.  The same applies when it comes to the suspicion of corruption: Seeing not so talented drivers in big new shiny cars often brings up the thoughtful question whether hard work or corruption has brought this car on the street. I admit: it is a shame, but such thoughts are crossing my mind and with all the obvious corruption, from hungry police officers in Johannesburg asking for chicken wings at a police control up to Nkandla and all those politicians, people in power and the tiny group of multimillionaire turned BEE applicants it might be even excusable.  And I am sure I am not the only one having such thoughts.
Flying often from Cape Town to Johannesburg return and seeing the attitude of many at destination taken away by government cars I must hold on not raising my voice and telling those people what “service” in democracy means.
Despite those observations are all the positive points South Africa can show off with: besides breath-taking nature and mostly friendly and compassionate people with a smile on their face, natural resources, a young generation willing to take the challenge if society and education gives them the equipment needed. So there is so much positive to cherish in this country.

I sometimes have the feeling that our society here has come out of the truth and reconciliation commission process knowing most of what happened in the past, but had no time to heal the wounds of the past. A government blaming Apartheid for every own failure does not help to let wounds close and scarfs appear, which are still present as a reminder, but they do not hurt anymore. I honestly think South Africa is in need of better leaders on all levels, showing an example how to serve a nation instead of milking it in many ways. And for me, there are in every political party people who could rise to the challenge. I had the opportunity to speak to politicians of different parties and I am convinced that South Africans can take on the challenge of transforming this country to be a beacon of hope for all of Africa. We just have to escape the spell of corruption, lies, dishonesty and the devils circle of senseless violence marring this country. Healing is for me the miracle word, healing of a collective nations psyche.
Churches can play a big role in this – furthering the process of healing and being the needed conscience of the nation if and when they put aside they own agenda and just being willing to serve the people without the intention to proselytize or forcing their own believe system on a nation. There is an existing ethos we all can agree of – be it the golden rule or the principles of world ethos as described by Hans Kueng and his world ethos project. The justice and peace projects of the Roman – Catholic Church is another example of trying to support and assist this process. Other churches have similar portfolios. So there is hope for me – and I hope that this hope will be carried through to a year of elections which can be won or lost by any party; and there is no entitlement of owning certain parts of this democratic process – a good government, a strong opposition, separation of powers and the goodwill of all people should prevail and bring us a step forward. A blessed New Year to all.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenNovember 16th, 2019
9 months to go.

Ball of HOPE 2019

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 18th, 2019
3 months to go.

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