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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Balance is needed and realities appreciated

It is said that in South Africa, it is difficult to find middle ground – it is either black or white, laissez-faire or authoritarian, and looking at measures taken in the country it seems to confirm this observation. Stringent and harsh measures were announced and tried to enforce in the last days leaving behind those whose life reality is so different from those who try to prescribe them. So we saw in many township communities chaos on Friday, the first day of the lock-down: people still had to go to the shops because only when they are paid, they can go shopping. It was clear that government simply forgot to factor in reality.
Videos of aggressive reacting military without any possibility to identify them; police ordering people out of their own yard into their house with doors closed and so demonstrating that they did not understand the rules neither but also township residents defying orders and calling Covid-19 a white man’s disease demonstrated the gaps in dealing with the crisis. On the other hand: it is indeed an overwhelming task to get all citizens to understand the seriousness of this challenge.

Obviously too harsh measures will backfire – and it is noted that e.g. the sale of cigarettes is now allowed in supermarkets – there is no meaning in keeping a smoker 21 days without cigarettes and expect him to feel relaxed at home during lock-down. Government must and should fine-tune measures, but obviously having problematic ministers like Cele running partly the show will make this a challenge for the nation. Especially in a township environment where people really have to struggle every day to survive measures must be coherent, but also understandable and manageable for those living there.
In a situation like ours it would also be good if the President himself is able to reassure the nation on a regular base – people here simply listening rather to him than to compromised ministers or head of departments. State capture has destroyed quite some trust into state organs and this should not be underestimated. It also has widened the gap between those who have or are in charge and those whose life has not changed a lot in the last years still remaining under the poverty line.

There is another aspect which seems important – giving out the figures of confirmed testing does only tell half of the story as we know the virus can come and go without needing hospitalization.  We need antibody tests to find out how many people are already immune and survived the virus without major consequences.  We know that children and younger people are less likely to develop tough symptoms. So knowing the infection rate, but also the immunisation rate can give important indications for the future handling of the pandemic.  It also helps to give people a perspective of what to expect in the next months to come. As important the update of current status is, important is also to give citizens a realistic hope and with that a goal to achieve jointly as society.

Finding a balance after a good start, appreciating realities and work with them – we will see what the next days might bring on fine-tuning measures, transparency in communication and also some more training for SAPS and SANDF so that the service with humility, the president spoke about, becomes a reality. In days like these citizens put their trust in government by allowing the curtailing of civil rights – alone this must be reason of careful consideration how to progress in the fight against Covid-19 in South Africa.

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

Covid-19 warriors

Judging social media it seems that quite a handful of people are sitting in ordered or self-imposed quarantine and favour the social media world with their plights, tribulations and realizations – like warriors in a battle, not shying away from posting all the horror headlines and predictions making their sacrifice of self-containment even more worthwhile. Watching streamed TV from Germany every real and wannabe star feels the urge to post videos with the “I am ok” messages as if the world is really desperately waiting for it.
It reminds me of the many World Aids Conferences, where the only badge to wear and being applauded for is for many speakers to be HIV positive.
I never got it, and I am not sure I get it now.

We know that 60-70% of the population will be infected by the virus and for most of them, it will be like the normal flu or even less, the virus will pass by – especially young people and this might be the blessing for South Africa. A different story are the elderly and those whose immune system is already strong compromised – and here solidarity is needed to protect them. But is this not something what should be normal to do? Without big words and gestures?

As Africans, the principal of ubuntu, the knowledge that there is a dependency which grants life to be lived to the fullest spells already out to have that practical compassion and avoid any situation where the most vulnerable are being brought into the danger zone. Here again, this African spirit of connectivity could be an example for the rest of the world demonstrating values which might have to be gained and learned again in other countries. The implicitness of solidarity and compassion is a gift this continent, which produced the first humans could pass on to the world.

Covid-19 is a chance to get back to our roots of humanity – and the pure fact that normal human behaviour has to be pointed out – or even in Europe more and more enforced –  shows how much the world has lost its moral compass. Covid-19 will come and go – and it is up to us to learn the lessons provided to us – every threat is also a challenge. So let’s pass this test, score all positive points possible and together make the world a better place.

 

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

Observations in the times of Corona

Amazing times indeed – having to cut short a 4-week trip is something one does not do light-hearted, but the ever escalating events and restrictions are of a level never seen in my lifetime.

Pondering for days to cancel the US part of it – and then decision taken out of my hands by the US authorities. Meetings cancelled and those still happening are at distance – 1.5 m and no physical contact allowed. And don’t cough when in public spaces: anxious eyes are immediately following you, having identified you as the source of the closer coming infection. Business people with suit and surgical gloves are interesting trend setters – and the everywhere mask which has a zero effect but a feel good component of “I am doing something”.

In Germany there seems to be the threat of no toilet paper palpable – and noodles – not sure how this goes together, but I am still investigating the mysterious link between the two. Airlines change flight times and cancel flights on a regular base – it is almost triggering unease when leaving Berlin this morning and everything was done in time without changes.

But serious: I see this experience as a very healthy one – it cuts you down to normal seize again and it is hopefully a lesson for human mankind, that we are part of something much bigger, but not the masters of the universe or at least this planet and this creation. The situation gives us the chance to readjust our value system and recalibrate what is important and who is important in our life.

Nor political or financial system is able to overcome such a reminder of humility alone – we are all in the same boat – and while many display symptoms of either pure ignorance or great panic – disseminating all info on social media without even thinking to use brain cells – there are the first signs of a change of hearts and minds: “Entschleunigung” is one of the German buzz words – going slower, having more time to think and to reflect, having more time for family and friends, rediscovering values and appreciation of those around us. We need each other – we are not competition but in it together. I guess especially the latter is more a lesson to be learned by the European and US American population. We Africans might be able to contribute our “ubuntu” to these new discoveries – in a new way being heard and listened to – and not only laughed at as those having missed the bus.

Corona is a lesson to learn – and I can only hope and pray that human mankind comes out of this crisis more humble, more considerable and more decent – paving the way for more humanity and a deeper sense of being – being part of something bigger we all strive to understand in one way or the other.

We are all on the way – the mystery of where we come from and where we go to still remains and all the bugs, all the bacteria and virus are part of our journey. I am sure it all will make sense at the end…  but for the time being, I am happy just to acknowledge that the mere fact has unsettled our way of living, our way of working and the way we see and experience the world.

Filed under: Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , ,

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