God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Scare tactics as the new transparency?

South Africa in the times of Covid-19:
It is amazing: feeling the heat turned up and demanding answers about all the nonsensical decisions of a constitutionally questionable National Covid-19 Command government changed tactics in the communication with “our people”.
Having realised the damage done by scientists of the medical advisory body opening up about being ignored when decisions are made and with this the presidential narrative of scientific reasoning for the lockdown in jeopardy; the Minister of Health resorted to publishing the worst case scenario of another group of academics which created the intended headlines of horror and destruction intended. The small print – that those calculations are based on weak and anyhow ever-changing data – clear to those used to see such analytics – but hidden for the majority of readers was surely mostly not realised by readers in the same way as the screaming headlines.
And obviously the death of a premature born baby with severe lung defections born by a Covid-19 mom again produced headlines of horror; the fact that the survival chance was anyhow minimal besides Covid-19 had no chance against the presumption that now even babies are prone to die quickly. Again a welcome argument spread around by all tabloids in South Africa.

Those interested in politics noted also the absence of Minister Dlamini-Zuma for a Parliamentary Committee question session: she was too busy drafting the Level 3 rules to attend to her duties towards the people’s representation. The message conveyed was how hard at work ministers are.

I have the impression, government changed tactics to convince people how serious the situation is – and I don’t know anybody personally, who would not agree to it. But what government did not factor in in this obvious change of mind is that trust has been massively lost and that changing gear from the extreme of secrecy into a pretended openness is not very convincing neither.

The uncertainty of timelines, the amount of rules not Corona connected, the plight of hungry people, the damage to the economy, the rag rug of drafts, promises, wishes and realities,  the damning Khosa judgement and the promise of splitting the country into different level areas are all fuelling the resentment of people against a national government thorn apart by internal struggles of the ruling party. This struggle is mirrored in the decision-making process.  The impotence of the ruling party of letting go of an ideology not fitting our times any more and the myth of a unified ANC speaking only with one voice  are the ingredients of the decision-making chaos South Africans witnessed the last weeks.

The virus is here to stay – the lockdown served its purpose – government had enough time to prepare.

Now is the time for lifting the lockdown and to put all emphasis of safety measures while restarting the economy and tackling the social woes of this country. And not only the social problems: The mere fact, that breaking the lockdown rules make you a criminal while stealing from the state coffers and being corrupt earns you a place in government or parliament documents what still is wrong in the country. Being part of state capture seems still to be without consequences, while walking on the beach will lock you up in a holding cell. The Covid-19 pandemic again brings also on this level into focus what is clearly not right in our country.

In the current situation, the Western Province is surely one of the best prepared provinces, statistically ahead of other provinces also when it comes to the pandemic itself. And even knowing this one can’t miss out on the efforts of political forces to use this against the people of this province by threatening to keep them more locked-down as other provinces. It is also the province where NGO’s are valued and not menaced to be brought under a strict governmental control trying to monitor and decide on food assistance in a way which will hurt those in need.

Again: now is not the time for political scores or power plays, it is not the time for scare tactics or secrecy; it is time to lift the lockdown and to put all energy into bringing the best out of the people and motivating them to keep safety measures – making it fashionable to care for each other and in doing so, uplifting our society in ways maybe not possible without the virus. Every challenge is also a chance, so they say…

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

“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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Art of saying nothing and a half-hearted apology

After a long silence the President of South Africa appeared on television again to speak to his “fellow South Africans”.

Frustration and distrust are running high in this country when it comes to governmental decisions, the micro-managing of many aspects of daily life not related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the brutality of law enforcement, the threat to shut down essential feeding schemes and the killing of millions of jobs through partly meaningless lockdown demands warranted his appearance.

Unfortunately he did not spell out any real and substantial promise, but kept for a most of the time a very general narrative, promising for some parts of the country another easing of lockdown to level 3 but at the same time indicated pockets to remain on level 4. Which one gets which blessing should be determined by infection numbers and other projective models, but again he failed to take the nation into confidence what models, who are the advisors and what is the rationale behind distinguishing between a T-shirt, being allowed to sell or not to sell, or the threat posed by flip-flops being sold. It would be indeed interesting to hear who the experts in those cases are.

While confirming, that the lockdown was done to enable the government to beef up the ability to handle higher numbers of Covid-10 patients and the fact, that even lockdown does not stop the virus, he somehow contradictory stated the continuation of the lockdown and the easing to be determined by the various people sitting on the ominous and non constitutionally sound Covid-19 command council.

His mentioned several times, that the only objective of government is to save lives and that all South Africans are together in it. He failed to explain, why BEE related conditions for assistance in the tourism sector divides the nation into those entitled and those without government help. He also failed to explain why a new economy and radical economic transition is on top of the agenda in crisis times instead of saving jobs and containing the virus. The lack of testing equipment, the comparison of South Africa only with those states doing awful in their Corona response to paint a picture serving his narrative was also not convincing.

The half-hearted apology at the end for making mistakes was going into the right direction, but could have been more forceful and accompanied by sustained information instead of lots of warm air and seemingly nice words to calm down a clear wave of frustration by “our people”, as the people of South Africa so happily be called by politicians.

What do we know after his talk?
We know that the country will be divided by the Covid-19 council into those parts moving forward and those being left behind when it comes to changing levels – and the fear is, that the determination of this will be done by projections only calculated in secret. The distrust and frustration will further rise and hurt even more the already damaged fabric of society. The politicisation of health issues or the assumption of such will bring more unnecessary pain to the people. It is widely expected that those parts of the country which have the best testing and reporting capacity will be punished for doing so as they are also conveniently being ruled by the opposition party.

And again, it will be the collective making decisions – and obviously nobody can be held responsible for those decisions – which is – for those in charge – very convenient. As it was convenient for the President to highlight and to thank the people of South Africa for the adherence regarding the lockdown regulation – either not knowing or willing ignoring that in most townships the physical distancing remains an impossibility – but to say this would not fit the narrative needed to stand in front of the nation.

So, after his speech – South Africans still don’t know what to expect as – as always – all substantial information will be communicated by those again, whose fight against alcohol, cigarettes, and summer t-shirts are so well known by now within the nation. A President, who leads, looks and speaks different.

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

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, , , , , , , , , ,

The shadows of the past come to bite back…

Psychologists can get carried away talking about the shadows of the past – the déjà vu of things coming back and the bible speaks about the sins of the forefathers still haunting the generations to come.
Somehow this came to my mind listening the announcements of the lady, who once fought to keep antiretroviral treatment out of South Africa, then wasted millions of money on a play which never took of in the ages of HIV and now seamingless transitioned into the teacher-for-small-kids-style bearer of bad news, being inconsistent and partly making no sense at best.

The news given came from the “COVID-19 Command Council” – a structure deemed suspiciously absent in the constitution and the laws of the land – created by the President without visible and clear discussions in the National Parliament. In a way it feels like emergency laws of some sorts are back and looking at the divide between suburban with people following the rules and becoming upset social media snitches in WhatsApp groups and in real life while scenes of brutality by law agencies and military in townships even trigger the concern of the UN.  Does that not sound familiar for those living all their lives in South Africa?

And there is the President, sweet-talking once in a while and trying to build momentum for the crisis to be tackled meaningful – but let’s be honest: Don’t come to mind the many crisis commands and war rooms from Eskom to whatever where a certain Deputy President was tasked to solve problems – anyone present to vouch for meaningful results in all those cases?

And last but not least the inconsistency in announcements, the forward and backward within formalising the rules – sold to us as part of the process guided by science and data we were never privy to see – so much about transparency – and in truth the turf war between those trying to abuse the situation for a so-called new economy-not-for-all South Africans, but spiked by race consideration, add RET mixed with socialist and communist recipes – aiming at bringing down a country out of ideological considerations.

So here we are now:
Having been sold a way out of lockdown only to realise that the new rules are again have inconsistencies and partly don’t make any sense.
Jogging outside and walking the dogs is allowed under strict conditions, but please when certainly no sun is shining early in the morning before sunrise – being out in the sun after 5 weeks of been completely locked away would indeed be harmful for health.
A complete curfew from 8 pm – leaving the chefs of the restaurants offering dinner-to-order scramble to clean the kitchen and be home at that time – and giving those delivery-services no time to really do their job – because they have to be home when business is needed to perform: dinner time.
Cigarettes are banned again after being the promise of sale allowed – the black markets are in delight and surely a certain political party too if whispers is to believe that this trade financed political activities and leaders too.

But not all is doom and gloom – some beauty products are now allowed to be bought by the desperate citizens of this country – and personal computer equipment after 5 weeks of digital homeschooling without the luxury of exchanging broken equipment: at least now the broken mouse can be replaced.
People, who were caught up not at home when lockdown was announced have now one opportunity to get home – if and when transport is available. And obviously police and military manning roadblocks are on the newest level of updated information, because that seems to be another constant weakness of the system: the uncertainty and grey areas of what is allowed and what not and the often reported ignorance of law enforcement making up their own rules.

Shadows of the past coming to bite in the current time – Covid-19 is showing clearly how much of the “old” is still prevalent in the country, the system, in the agencies and the behaviour of people. The new democracy has less been embraced than many have thought, the danger and temptation of authoritarian rule  is present and the complete lack of remorse for the years of state sponsored looting and its appreciation when talking about the 500 billion rescue package triggering the fear of corruption doesn’t promise an easy future for South Africa.

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

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