God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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, , , , , , , , , ,

Drought and Water scares

Meanwhile it is almost known in every corner of the global village that the Western Cape is facing a severe drought and that Cape Town might be the first big city completely running out of water. Emotions are flaring high and accusations are flying into all directions: local government, the people of Cape Town, the system, the complicated spheres of government, national government – everybody is able to pick up his or her argument to blame others for the crisis.

I guess it is a typical scenario where half truth are used to cover up own faults – its human to pick what serves my argument:

Yes, it is correct that there was a severe drought for 3 years in a row – but since years there is talk of a desalination plant and done was really nothing.
Yes, it is correct that the water use of some people is unreasonably high – but you can’t expect that people realize the severity when you played your cards of counting down to day zero already last year and it did not happen
Yes it is correct that national government is obviously reluctant to assist an opposition governed province, but honestly, opposition took government officials so often to court in the last years but failed on this one badly.

So I would say that bad planing, bad coordination, bad politics and bad habits here joined hands to get to the situation as is in the moment. Responsibility lies with government officials to  lead the way out of crisis – and there is the next problem: with all the finger-pointing and in-fights there is no real leadership – dealing with citizens like school kids does not help nor creating a situation which will lead to chaos and anarchy and a breakdown of public life as we know it.

The way the water crisis is handled is a dis-service to the people of Cape Town, but also South Africa – it damages not only the reputation but the possibilities to create a better life for all – some soul-searching paired with honesty and fairness to all concerned would assist in getting the situation back on track.  Communication must improve – watching for example Xanthea Limberg as  mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy talking about the situation feels like a detached person taking about a minor problem of technical nature. “Empathy” is the missing word and emotion.

And there is more to say: If the City of Cape Town would have a proper and transparent plan to overcome the situation people would be more willing to engage. For example the drought charge now given up on: If there would be a plan to build a proper desalination plant – given the public plans, figures and timelines with a projected outcome I am sure the support for such a charge would have been overwhelmingly positive. People must see and feel that their money is working for some good in the future. Saying that such a charge makes up for lost revenue because people saved water was quite bad and those who do the marketing of such communication should be fired on the spot.

Millions of people queuing for water every day – no running toilets in office buildings and restaurants – sanitation and health issues as a feasible threat, closing temporarily primary health care facilities as per existing plans – the list is long and time to avoid it is short – instead of continuous finger-pointing I would like to see all responsible to get to work – reflection can come later when there is the appropriate time. Definitely some lessons to learn for the new democracy of South Africa and it’s functioning in real life experience.

And lets be clear: the lack of proper planing and maintenance in the area of water and sanitation also from other provinces and national government  together with climate change will South Africa hit hard if not immediate steps are done to avoid more disaster scenarios in South Africa. And to be honest: as a priest I also miss the vocal and leading voice of churches and interfaith communities: water and access to water is a human right – and yes, one could hear some voices here and there, but not the swell of guiding concerns needed in such a situation.

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

Rape and killings as a trademark of South Africa

Working in the fields of HIV and AIDS focusing on children, one has to note the dramatic increase in brutal hurt and meaningless death children are involved in South Africa in our days. Lihle Hlanwja – 9 years old – raped and set alight in the township of Delft in January and she succumbed to her horrible wounds last week.  A 3 month old Delft baby was killed in the same township last week while Michells Plain mourns the 12 year old Jcinta Matross and two teenager killed without mercy. More luck for three kids in the age of 6,14 and 16 years in Kewtown, who sustained multiple gunshot wounds as they were caught in the cross fire gangs; the 18 year old Ebrahim Daniels was not so lucky and was killed. I could continue this list by mentioning Edwin Abrahams, 16 years old and shot dead, an unnamed teenage girl in Manenberg, gang-raped while violating gangs territory borders, not to forget Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp, brutally raped and killed by another youngster. Last week we heard of the rape of a 5-year-old girl by three grade two boys at a school in Rocklands, the same day a Limpopo man’s sentence for raping his 14-year-old daughter was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal. Other perpetrators never face justice as the murder of the 15 year olf Lydia Michels, who was gang- raped in Bonteheuwel a long time ago and killed by members of the same gang to avoid her giving testimony in court. The rapists of the Dixie Boys gang are still free – lack of evidence as the main witness is dead.

The long list which could as said be continued a long time, all the tragic stories of rape and murder committed partly by parents, but also by children and youngsters show how sick the South African society is. The soul of South Africa is still morbid – after having the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the truth came out, but reconciliation within people looking at their past and between people doing the same has failed so far. It is in this context that the political story of South Africa and the necessity of a good moral leadership has to be seen and looking at it there is only one judgement: there is nobody in the present government embodying this moral leadership. We have gone from an excellent start – even if there were mistakes made – of Nelson Mandela to a president, who has changed the ruling party from bringing fresh air and reconciling actions to obvious blunder and corruption. The question is: How can South Africa and it’s society find peace and prosper when the leadership gives mostly example of bad behavior and pushes through whatever seems to be beneficial without looking right or left. Is there really so much difference between a politician taking personal advantage and enriches him or herself, lies to parliament, punishes those who resist him or her and the gangster in Manenberg or Lavender Hill who does the same on his scale of possibilities. As long as the climate promotes corrupt and self-serving politicians all efforts to eradicate gangsters and drug trade will be in vain.  As long as Nakandla and Guptagate are possible and as long the ANC does not transform back in a party liberating people instead of forcing people to adhere to a party discipline only serving some on top and covering up for them without visible shame there will be no healing of the South African soul.

We like it or not – South Africa is drifting in a direction in the moment which is dangerous and can mean failure on the long run. It’s not only crime, but also economic policies, immigration policies, the secrecy bill and various other developments which harm the very people all those policies should serve. We as a society have to understand that in all this protecting the young and vulnerable is our first duty. Most rapes are committed in families or by the extended circle of family members and friends. We have to look into the family situation and heal what is wrong there. Gangs thrive because there are no alternatives for youngsters – schools fail the students because teachers are not well equipped and not up to the task – early childhood development fails because 16 years old mothers are very often not able to deal with their own babies at that age….

Churches, NGO’s, the civil society has to up their role and work hard to change the trademark of South Africa.

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

Any difference between South Africa and the USA?

Food bank Somerville NJNew York  – a buzzing city which never sleeps and lots of people living obviously on the streets and in extreme poverty. The discrepancy between rich and poor is certainly as extreme as in South Africa.
Somerville – visit at one of the three food banks in the county. 850 people are regulars at this food bank, which is supported by church communities and private supporters. My question, whether they get expired food from the big supermarket chains is denied. The fear to be brought to court when somebody gets sick from expired food overrides any charity attempt.
I meet two women, mother and daughter who are living in their car: house gone, job gone – car and food bank keeps them going, at least they have a place to stay in the bitter cold winter nights of New Jersey.
The food bank is placed within an industrial zone – far away from the city center and I guess it’s too far for a lot of needy people. The city has no interest to have it close by – poverty should not be seen in the city center.
Watching TV in the evening – FOX news and others. The way, politics is presented and commented leaves me speechless. I am used to a lot of nonsense in South African politics – but the stupidity of comments on American TV leaves me often speechless. These are no news, that is indoctrination – Gupta news on a well advanced level. It is scary to think that something like this will emerge on that scale also in South Africa.

It seems to me, that the US and South Africa are not that far away on certain levels. The incomprehensible way of politics, the gap between rich and poor, the impact of poverty and unemployment on society, violence of all sorts. The USA is a country which combines first and third world as South Africa does – it is interesting that we perceive one as a world power and the other as an emerging country. How relative is our judgement?
Speaking to people on the ground and in the social services I realized how much we can share and work on together to create a better world for all, not for only those more fortune. And when it comes to HIV and AIDS, some areas of the US and some populations are as in the same bad shape as South Africa. It is amazing that we in South Africa achieved so much when it comes to treatment due to the assistance of the USA, a country which seems to struggle to get their own people on adequate treatment.

Well, of course they are major differences between the USA and South Africa. But at a closer look there are much more similarities and common ground then we usually think. This common ground gives chance to close cooperation and joint ventures looking eye to eye. Any attitude on any side would be wrong.

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

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