God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

“Month-to-month phasing-out of the lockdown has no basis in science”

I think, clearer than in the headline of this blog one cannot point out, that the level-phased lockdown has no room in the minds of scientists. And this verdict comes not from somebody hardly known but from Dr Glenda Gray, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) and chairperson of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). She is a specialist paediatrician and HIV vaccine researcher. She was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2017 and  received South Africa’s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe.

She is one of the great academics, President Cyril Ramaphosa says he bases his decisions on, when it comes to Covid-19. Which obviously warrants the question whether he means what he is saying or whether in the top secret meetings without minutes – so indicated by Minister Dlamini-Zuma when asked about the ban of cigarette sale question – those opinions count nothing against the ideology of hard-liners within the Covid-19 Command which, by the way – suddenly extends to the whole cabinet after threats of legal challenges.

Grey makes it clear that the gradual change of lockdown levels with all those rules governing roasted chicken, the prescribed timing of exercise to the question, which kind of T-Shirt can be sold is simply nonsensical and not backed up by any science. She says: “One can argue whether the extension of the lockdown and these alert levels are justified, and I think we could argue that an additional two weeks in the lockdown may have supported the work that had been started and was critical. …  “But the de-escalation, month on month, to various levels is nonsensical and unscientific.”

Government wanted us to believe that we buy time to prepare for the onslaught of the virus – and South Africans willingly gave the requested 3 weeks and also the added 2 weeks extension. But by now, preparations should be done and the virus, which simply will not be stopped but will have a walk through to our society with all the consequences.
While this is a given, the economic consequences are disastrous; people are desperate with no income, curtailed choices on so many not Covid-19 related matters – they are hungry and if we are honest, the physical distancing has never really completely worked in the dense township population as a matter of fact.

Instead of playing with the livelihood of people, with the sanity of people and the despair of poverty; instead of arguing about fine-tuning levels and sitting over long lists of winter related clothing or which flip-flops to ban for sale – life should now go back to a new normal – with the maximum of care for each other, the maximum of safety with physical distancing and face masks. Industries should be able to open again, going to work is for many less dangerous than staying in the township environment with its high population.

Maybe government does not trust itself about the readiness, reflecting on the many failures of governmental interventions or running from parastatals like ESKOM or Transnet, SAA or the Postal Services. Maybe government does not trust its own people; certainly the last weeks showed that it does not trust our democratic rules of engagement or the oversight function of the South African Parliament.

Be it as it may be – it is time to stop wasting energies on lockdown regulations in the different phases; all energy should be put in bringing society up to speed how to make it hip and chic to adhere to safety measures at the workplace or in the public domain.

Dr Ian Sanne, another member of the governmental advisory committee, in real life associate professor at the clinical HIV Research Unit at Wits University and CEO of Right to Care, said the committee was not asked whether the lockdown should downgrade to Level 3, or any broader questions related to the issue. He said: “How can you continue to implement these restrictive levels when the data shows that the transmission of the virus will continue unless you implement non-pharmaceutical interventions [NPIs] to slow the transmission down or get a vaccine? We know what we have to do. We have to implement NPIs … I think the government has failed to understand the psyche of its populace” He also added that due to the lockdown, other chronic sick patients failed to receive their medicine and care putting them into danger.

The disadvantages of a continued lockdown seemingly outweighs the benefits and causes more harm through hunger, lack of income, malnutrition, depression and lack for services for chronic ill patients. These are all  reason to phase out a measure which alienates more and more South Africans from their government while creating havoc for the personal lives of so many.

Nobody advocates a “back to the old normal” – but common sense dictates to take economically question and scientific rationale into account when making decisions in such times – and a honesty paired with skills to understand the situation holistically which definitely is for some decision maker lacking for reasons which to explain would need another blog.

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

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, , , , , , , , , ,

in between travels

Traveling between Europe and South Africa sees in the moment a clear competition: which country has the most outrages politicians, the most stupid public debates avoiding the real question of long term sustainability of our societies and environments. Adding the big brother from the US sometimes one even does not know how to close ears and eyes from all the thunder of underdeveloped ideas. Add some blue haired so called influencer and the panopticum of political and social surrealism matches Salvador Dali’s paintings or even goes further.

What is it that people are losing their minds and running either behind a single messiah with short term memory or flocking behind the easy black/white solutions which never will solve any of our complex problems. Or, like we see more and more in South Africa, use violence and intimidation to get what one wants and just now without delay.
My guess is still that the anxiety over an overwhelming digital and digital connected world makes people being so afraid that they even intelligence don’t stop the degradation into instincts learned as we still walks as Neanderthals this earth.  We are in the mental stone-age of the digital revolution – and we behave like it on almost all levels of societies – it’s like a pandemic running its course and nobody really notices and if, one looks at it like the rabbit in front of the snake: don’t move – freeze!

The sacredness of life, the beauty of living this earth, the diversity of nature, the freedoms so many people fought and died for – all those are becoming victims of this point in time.  And churches, so much busy with themselves and their own history of failings trying to maintain a bit of moral order are not realizing that the real questions have moved so much further from the question what happens in the bedrooms of people.

Well, this weekend we are celebrating Pentecost – we celebrate the good Spirit of everything living and existing on this earth, in this universe – and maybe looking at the scale this compares to the aforesaid problems might enable us to put things again into perspective. This Spirit has three virtues: faith, hope and love – and maybe bringing them to the forefront again there might be a way out of our seemingly endless circles of short and inadequate answers – hope, faith and love are long-living – they are channels to life and to freedom we urgently need to rediscover.

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

Inhumanity of systems

“The system does not allow for it” – how often have you heard this answer when trying to change or streamline something at a customer care center or at a counter of a major airline or company. It seems to me, that the more we try to perfect the systems to run and organize our lives in society the more we are giving away this little quench of humanity making companies, city administrations, airline companies and in general any entity dealing with clients or customers on a bigger scale.
Systems should be there to serve people, especially computer programs are invented to make life easier but in reality, they are starting to complicate things. Living in South Africa, I am sure most of my fellow comrades will have had run ins with Telkom, the SABC or even the traffic department because payments are not registered properly and the helpless and mostly clueless customer care agent can only try to calm down the customer while the system is the person in question hunting down without mercy or relief up to the debt collectors letters without having the possibility to stop the nonsense.

I guess we also have to take care that our systems in church or an NGO does not become the perfect battle ground for inhumane systems and that we strive the balance between work easier done and having the chance to show that we as human beings still deal with human beings.  I remember a diplomat getting into a court battle at home, because the church system of taxation didn’t recognize him being abroad for some years but initiated at the end  a legal battle because the system did not allow for being abroad a longer time. Obviously this harmed his relationship with the respective church quite a bit.

I guess to counter the computerization of our lives we have to escape the idea to connect everything we are doing, from work via fitness via eating habits via social media with a digital system. I know people who run around the kitchen table just to have the magic number of steps given by their fitness wristband computer.

To remain human we must de-computerize our life where our personal habits become prescribed by a brainless micro-chip. There is indeed more than ever the need for an extended ethics of computer use and digitization of our lives. This besides the fact that such systems are indeed dangerous for our personal freedom and all the civil rights people so hard-fought for… 1984 from G. Orwell is starting to become more reality than we as normal citizens are aware of.

And so, while still fighting already paid traffic fines I will continue to think how I can balance better my personal freedom versus a digital world promising convenience of life without telling the whole story.

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

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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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