God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

What must fall – fees or the South African State?

Whole universities are pitted against one another – the “Wits option” vs the “UCT option”. Some academics are accused of being blindly supportive of “the innocent students” and parading their colours as the immaculate left; while others are seen as blindly securocrat, unreconstructed racists, or terminally bewildered.

So let’s (try to) agree on a modicum of common ground. Remarkably, there is a lot of it about. No-one can reasonably argue that universities are not underfunded. No-one can reasonably argue that the impact of underfunding has been transferred to fee increases, and that in turn, black (primarily African and coloured) students bear the burden. Given the failure of the post-apartheid economy to sufficiently redistribute wealth and the abject failure of trickle-down economics, “black debt” is a reality.

Let’s also accept that for many students, much of the academy is an alienating, overwhelmingly white, Eurocentric space and experience. Students arrive and are expected to meet imported norms, seminar room sarcasm, unknown customs, foreign authors, hard marking and plain hard slog of tertiary education, while being young and going through their own life transitions, and doing so in “othered” spaces, out of vernacular, and so on.

Let us also agree that virtually no university or further education college has genuinely grappled (institutionally, not at the level of the individual) with what it means to decolonise, beyond (at best) looking around quickly for some black/African authors. This is not true at school level, where many advances have been made – but these are islands in an ocean. Students swim in the ocean.

Let’s also accept the dangers of commodified knowledge and universities, and the fact that the system is slowly becoming a sausage machine for lawyers, accountants, MBAs and others deemed economically necessary for the economy. Those schools and faculties seen to add no “dollar value” are discriminated against locally and globally.

I say “let’s agree” because these issues have all been agreed to by both protesters and university management. There may be quibbles over the severity of this or that issue in this or that part of the sector, but the central issues are undisputed.

Divided we fall

So what divides us, and with such vehemence? For the immaculate left, it is ultimately a capitalist state that has no interest in the poor emerging from poverty; overlapping with black people in a society dominated by whiteliness; creating an unreconstructed racial capitalism that needs to be toppled. Students in this view lack agency, and are in every context victims of external forces. Every action is the response of victim to oppressor.

“Senior management” is seen to lead with security, follow up with more security, and have no interest in negotiation or compromise. Students just want a free, decolonised education in a transformed institution and are shot for daring to ask for it – and they remain innocent, brutalised “black bodies”.

For those who are not in this group, there is a basic commitment to teach, and to getting students to complete the academic year. They are disregarded as “liberals”, the ultimate South African insult. Security is regarded as a necessary evil – but since many academics have personally been assaulted and/or abused and/or disrupted, and many targeted for hiding students desperate to learn and/or shielding them from protesters, security seems a basic necessity. The pleas from students for support to finish the year have been incessant.

Returning to class

What is at fault with all these views is the assumption that if protesters win enough compromises – such as sector-wide agreement on free, quality, decolonised education and the need to plan, design and cost it so that it can be an implementable reality not a slogan (being self-evidently not swiftly realised) – they will return to class. And they will do so as victors. We know that the vast majority of non-protesters also want to be back in class – and a great many are there already. But this core assumption is wrong.

Students use shields belonging to private security during clashes with police at Wits University. Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

It is increasingly difficult to retreat from the notion that this is an incipient insurrection. While some protesters are undoubtedly idealistic and brave fighters for free quality education, the movement of 2015 has been colonised by political parties and anarchist movements in 2016. A movement without prominent leaders of 2015 has become leaderless in 2016.

Acts of bravery and camaraderie in 2015 have become acts of racist abuse and thuggish violence in 2016. Burning has replaced marching; destruction of university infrastructure is a key goal. This is no longer #FeesMustFall as we knew it – it has become #StateMustFall.

Universities are being used for testing the potential for broader insurrection –- if you can bring down universities you can bring down cities, if you can bring down cities, you can collapse and take control of the state. No compromise will get the core protesters back into class, or satisfy their academic or political mentors, because their goal is so much larger: state capture. It has allegedly been done once under democracy, so why not again?

Who is to blame?

Politics hates a vacuum, more than nature. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is morally compromised on every front. Seemingly all courts in the land are packed with lawyers attempting to stop good governance and allow uninterrupted bingeing at the trough. The brazen moves to cover various political derrieres are breathtaking – but create space for any other party to claim the moral high ground.

In 1976 during the Soweto youth uprising, protesting students were given political education by mainly the Black Consciousness Movement. Those students went into exile got their education from the liberation movement organisations, the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). Whether they were Africanist – closer to the PAC – or Charterist – aligned with the ANC – they were taught about the democratic state that had to be built and the principles on which it was to be built. Who now provides political education for protesting students?

The ANC is utterly compromised and cannot claim the moral authority to “lead”. The Democratic Alliance and ANC student wings, DASO and Sasco respectively, were loud in proclaiming their various Student Representative Council victories earlier in the year but have vanished from the scene. The prominence of Economic Freedom Fighters leaders – at national and student level – may or may not be relevant. So too the various incarnations of Black First Land First, pan-Africanist student movements and others. We are reduced to using student leaders of the 1980s as mediators, still on the faulty assumption that protesters want to return to class. They don’t. They are far more ambitious than that.

We have to call the bluff of those who keep moving the goalposts. Universities have agreed to free, quality, decolonised education in a transformed institution. Exam dates have been changed. Exam content is being modified to accommodate lost classes. But then the demands shift – we want this fully legislated now, or we won’t return to class. Or, we want amnesty for students suspended after due process regardless of what they did. Or, we want students arrested by police released. And so on and so on. These are patently not demands that the academy has the legal mandate to meet, even if we assume it had the will so to do.

If we do not call this for what it is, we face the danger of realising apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd’s dream – the man who advised us:

There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd.

If, as seems likely, for the second year in a row, university students in South Africa are going to complete only part of their annual curriculum, and will be examined on only part of their curriculum, the result is that every subsequent year is divided between “catching up” on what was missed and squeezing a year of teaching into less time – we face the danger of ensuring that no student will receive even a quality colonised education (an oxymoron for some, of course). We are not educating our students to compete locally or globally. We are crippling them. They are being sacrificed for the few who see state capture as tantalisingly close.

Disclosure statement: David Everatt does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Filed under: Africa, General, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , ,

There is no free education

It is amazing for me to hear again and again about “free education for all” as this slogan misses completely the point. Listening to some of the students commenting on this drama unfolding in South Africa in the moment, I have to ask myself whether they are indeed students. Students should have at least an initial ability of how to understand and analyze a problem which seems to be non-existing in most statements. They sound learned, repeated, memorized like a matric exam. No own thinking needed.

Education is never free – even if tuition fees are falling there are always people picking up the bill for the studies – it will be the taxpayer having this role. To be able to do so for those students not to effort a study, there should be enough taxpayers and less corruption to begin with. So if students want to bring change, they should demand from those in political power to demand circumstances allowing for this dialogue to happen. Burning libraries, burning history and collective memories, destroying facilities only add to the impossibility affording fee free studies.

I also wonder seeing the pictures of violent clashes on campus – where are the parents in this unfortunate battle? Are they silent because they feel the youngster express also their anger against state, society and all the other entities one feels left out? Is the “demand” of the students not rather also silently bolstered protest of those still hurt from Apartheid times and left alone in this pain by the present government?

Another question I ponder: Even if the studies themselves are free – there are other costs for housing, transport, books etc – also all free? Or bursaries which in the moment seemed to be a free for all as not a lot care to pay back and the government allows for it to happen. Watching a report on this topic recently I was quite taken back by a former student explaining in front of a camera that he does not dare to pay 100 Rand back as per loan agreement – even earning a decent salary now himself after having a bursary throughout his studies. No shame, no guilt – he simply did not care – and once again the question: What did parents tell him how to conduct himself in an ethical manner?

Last but not least: I hear students have on their lips: “decolonization of the universities” . Universities are indeed  a colonial institution brought to South Africa. My question would be: do we want to get rid of the universities or what is the aim of the decolonization? I really believe a bit more academic maturity is in this discussion the order of today.

Students have the right to protest, they have the right to be unreasonable in demands, but they don’t have the right to destruction, violence, disturbance – and maybe it is time for the parents to reign in and for the students to concentrate their anger and rightful questions onto those who at the end are responsible for a climate of appropriate and affordable studies: our politicians who are seemingly more interested in their own powers and privileges while wasting the money which could be used for a meaningful compromise in this matter.

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

Lent in the times of SONA

Ash Wednesday – a time marker to reflect the beginning of lent. Lent is for Christians a time to reflect on their lives and to prepare for the big feast of Easter – celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Germany you also have the political Ash Wednesday – where a political party tries to set it’s mark with sometimes over the board speeches to score points before elections or to satisfy their electorate.
This year in South Africa the religious and the political Ash Wednesday are close together with today’s religious ceremonies and tomorrow the president’s address to the nation. It actually started already yesterday, where clearly lawyers for the president and the chair of parliament conceded that they were wrong in their actions in a constitutional court proceedings about the actions of the President of South Africa.  It was a classical turn around and if meant serious an example for remorse and repentance – even if in the world of the courts this only counts as litigation during sentencing of an offender.
So Ash Wednesday may mark this year in South Africa on various levels a time for serious reflection – on an individual base people are called to reflect on their lives, make corrections, ease their burden and try to regain a positive energy and outlook on their respective lives to fulfill their calling and vocation. The church recommends cutting down on luxuries as a means to simplify life and be open for things really important and counting in life.
Society is also called to have a look on its habits – and with all the turmoil in our society, from #RhodesMustFall via #FeesMustFall to #ZumaMustFall; a dwindling economy, a realization that racism is not conquered completely in this country and that old wounds haven’t healed yet there is much to reflect and to correct. But for that we need a moral and political leadership which the ruling party is not willing or able to give in the moment. We need a change of hearts from those in political power.Politicians from all parties are called to look very closely whether they serve their own interests or those of themselves and their followers. No party is immune against corruption, power hunger and self-love and the thought of an importance, which warrants perks of various sorts.

The Catholic Church has called for a “Year of Mercy” – mercy towards others, but also mercy towards oneself. It tries to make visible, feel-able the unconditional love of God towards every human being. But this mercy can only work if one is open to receive it. And openness means to reflect and realize the own situation without make-ups and touch-ups. It’s a mercy which wants to change human lives on all those levels of individual life and social life. I guess in South Africa, we need tons of mercy – let’s start allowing it to flow into our society, into our lives so that Ash Wednesday 2016 might be the beginning of a new chapter in the new South Africa. At least this is my wish for this years beginning of lent.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sick and tired of violence

Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Yemen, Palestine and Israel – the news of violence, war and terror is a permanent feature on all news channels and I realize fatigue is setting in watching and zipping to all those channels with news seemingly to be for years the same.
Paris, Bamako – lock down in Brussels – and waiting for the next hit – around the world travel warning from the US and the discussions about sacrificing our freedoms fought for over long periods seems to head into a new direction of Orwell’s 1984 and even moreSouth Africa – #feesmustfall of the students means meanwhile arson, violence, destruction – almost hundred attempted murders per day in South Africa, from which are half successful. The taxi mafia continues to rule the streets and create havoc – service delivery protests can’t be without violence and damage anymore and whoever wants to take a drive on the national road N2 between Cape Town and Somerset West must be on the watch out – even police officers are not exempt falling victim of violence.
Coming back to the big world again – happy bombing from France – revenge for Paris, together with Russia and David Cameron can’t wait to extend his military reach in the Middle East – together with the continues and relentless extra-legal killings via drones – another permanent of this year’s news – especially when collateral damage means that unfortunately innocent people are killed too.
And as this would not be enough blood shed the state sponsored killings in the USA and Saudi-Arabia, but also not to forget in Indonesia and in other places seems to pick up again – another example that the capacity of governments and people to exercise respect for the sanctity of life degrades in the moment.

I must admit that I am in the moment sick and tired of all the violence on so many levels. Trying to get into the spirit of Advent as a Christian even worsens the situation as it becomes painfully clear how much we are away from the hope of Advent as the preparation of welcoming somebody in the world we see as the Prince of Peace and the messenger of unconditional love to all creation.
It seems that the new lonely caller in the wilderness we hear from in the bible changed his name from John the Baptist to Pope Francis amongst some other religious leaders . His travel this week to the war-thorn region of the Central African Republic with all the unknown and the danger would be a sign, that there might be other ways to answer violence and brutality than with weapons and violence.

But would that also be possible with ISIS or Daesh? Is there another way than throwing bombs?

I am convinced that bombings are not the answer, but that there are other strategies more promising to end this evil:
For example to acknowledge that there is a steady stream of unhappy Europeans following the call of ISIS and if we really want to root out such extremism we have to start in the suburbs of Paris, of Brussels, of Hamburg, of all the major cities in the USA. We have indeed to battle for the minds and the hearts of those feeling that they are not part of our society. Secondly let’s stop fulling the war in this region with selling weapons to “rebels” and other those, in the moment seemingly on the right side of history – in Afghanistan and Iraq history has thought us that the right side of history can quickly turn into the wrong one – ask the CIA which actually made Bin-Laden the person he became later on. Or Saddam Hussein, who was bolstered first to fight the revolution in Iran before falling out with the USA. Do we never learn out of mistakes?
Bombing, killing, extra-juridical killing by drones – it all creates an environment where people from ISIS will indeed flock together and new terrorists and suicide bombers are created on a daily base. The sad story of Israel and Palestine shows how the devils circle of violence never stops until somebody breaks it. And I am convinced to stop ISIS to gain more territory and cutting them off from the oil trade or trade of antiques will dry them out – cut them of the honor to connect them with  religion or Islam by getting the Umma to simply distance themselves – I am quite sure it will help to make this self-proclaimed caliphate a footnote of history in short time.

And let’s recognize and acknowledge that the wealth of Europe has its base in the exploitation of the African continent and the European colonies worldwide – and that they owe the people in Africa, in South America and where ever all the empires stretched for longer or shorter periods of time. Lots of country borders have been drawn on paper and without looking at situation. Lots of governments and dictators came into power because – at that time –   they either belonged to the anti-communist quarters or the other way around. We still haven’t worked it through – and we still are tempted to continue to make the same mistakes again and again. European governments judge not fairly but whatever suits best the Western World – they don’t have the focus on uplifting the people worldwide but what gives them more profit and fosters the lifestyle, Europe and North America wants to keep as long as possible. Let’s be honest: the conviction that we have to develop a new world order, a new way of dealing with each other is still in the infancy of the conscience of human civilization. We have conquered the technology but the rest lacks behind.

Advent – new beginning – may the feeling of being sick and tired of violence turn into a new approach of making the world a more peaceful place on all levels of life – a life to be called to live to the fullest.

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

13th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 27th, 2018
9 months to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 12th, 2018
3 months to go.

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