God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Never give up

Indeed, it is a challenge in our days living in South Africa to balance good and not so good news – and more than once I have been made aware that my postings are rather unbalanced on the not so good news when it comes to Facebook and Twitter.
And I recognize it is true from the outside; even with the biggest efforts to find here and there also good news, the situation in South Africa is bleak at the moment and the battle of national government against common sense, the ignorance for the plight of the people, the frustration bursts manifesting in illegal land invasion, the ongoing corruption of the connected and the sheer insensitivity of South Africa’s President in trying to keep the peace within the ANC instead within South Africa leads to times of desperation and trauma.

And it questions for many also the very foundation of our chosen political system of democracy. The promise of bringing prosperity and freedom to all has not been fulfilled; we are rather seeing politicians playing according to a prescribed book still not having internalized or started to deeply value its content.

Yesterday, the official farewell ceremony for John Lewis, the civil rights hero from the USA took place and the ceremony was guided by his own words, which may hold the key also for our situation in South Africa, where Covid-19 has laid bare all the wrongs and unfinished business of the young democracy:
“When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself”

As said, Covid-19 has laid bare all the unfinished business of the current South Africa – it has shown the inability of most of the current leadership to adept to the values of democracy and the rule of law, it showcases the continued zest for enrichment for the connected and the disconnect between those, who once fought for liberation, but now literally forsake their former ideals to enjoy the perks of a perceived victory, leaving the masses behind, only to be really recognized in election times.

It is exactly this time when giving up is not an option, as such times of deep crisis make or break the future of generations to come. It is a time to voice concern, to lay open the wrongs, to speak out with force, but at the same time to pick up the brokenness of ordinary people and giving them a chance to live, to learn and to prepare for a better life for all in this country. It might seem to be a fight against windmills – it might to feel like Sisyphos rolling the round stone uphill; at the end it is the only way to counteract the ideology and failure of freedom fighters turned overstrained politicians, partly with a taste for entitlement and perks.

Democracy is an act – it is doing the right thing; working and fighting for the rights of those having subscribed to it. One does not need a political post as democracy calls each and every citizen to contribute to its functioning. For this to happen people must learn its ins and outs in theory and practice; they must be upskilled in this important field and then given the space to exercise their democratic freedoms and duties.

And we should never forget that there are many good people in this country, who want the best for the country. It calls simply for the art to connect, to build a network of goodwill and hard work – never giving up the hope, the dreams and the aspiration for South Africa being a place where the constitution reigns supreme and the people of the land live in peace and harmony with themselves and each other.

 

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

South Africa: Day 108 of lock-down and Mandela Day

When years of looting and corruption, of cadre deployment, hand-outs and entitlement, ideological warfare spiced with hidden racism and unsolved trauma never really healed; when all those meet a small little virus conquering the world it is clear that the battle to defeat the bug highlights and shines light on all the dark corner of shortcomings for such a society.
In 5 days we celebrate in South Africa again Mandela Day – we recall a time when the world admirably looked at the country and Africa as a continent took pride in having one of their sons being seen as a reconciler of epic proportion. The miracle of a peaceful transition, the vision of a rainbow nation – the promise of a future for all where race, creed and sex play no role any more and equality and human rights are enshrined in the constitution and the Bill of Rights.

This dream and promise lives on, even if momentarily the situation looks almost the opposite – a president speaking live on TV while millions are plunged in darkness of load shedding and not even able to listen to him and others refuse to switch on the TV assuming the outcome and knowing that things might anyhow change in the days to come. Desperate, angry, helpless – the words of news commentators describing his speech mirror the current situation for many South Africans, who simply try to survive the madness of a developing junk state infected by a virus.

What makes the situation even worse is that the normal citizen can’t distinguish any more what are real concerns of the current political elite and what is the result of ideology and the vicious circle of covering up and in-fights. No wonder, that the latent and often not so hidden tendency to drink as an escape route to forget for a moment has almost become a social one – showcased in the on/off permission of alcohol sale currently forbidden again since last night.

If Mandela Day this week will have one meaning, so it is to keep alive our hopes for this country against all odds. It can’t hide the pain, the hurt, the incompetence, the desperation, the anger; but it can give a glimmer of light, a glimmer of hope. Churches speak in religious speak of realisation as a means to memorize the past for the good of the future – we have to use this year’s Mandela day to realize our potential as a society, as fellow humans; we have to envision the possibilities shown and experienced in 1994 during the First free elections or during the Rugby Final 1995.

The beauty of realisation is that everybody can do it – it is not bound on wealth or income or academic achievements. And it can create the power and synergy needed to overcome the current situation; it can deny the corrupt and criminal within the political elite to prosper further and at the same time bring out all virtues South Africa is also known for as the cradle and origin of human mankind.

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

Churches, but no hotels, restaurants

Yesterday evening again President Ramaphosa appeared on TV to introduce a day of prayer for South Africa, but also declared religious leaders essential worker and opened up church services under level 3. He did this obviously under strict conditions and with limitations to the amount of people attending.

I feel this decision is health wise premature and when there is one lesson to learn from other countries opening up for church services then it is that those are becoming the hotspots and origin of new clusters. And this in countries where religion is much more organised while here in South Africa every self-declared prophet can open up a church. Adding to the concerns is that in the traditional churches, the age group of worshippers is more and more moving to those which government want to stay home: the over 60.

Obviously we all know that mega churches and some African-Christian churches are a political factor in South Africa – and the push to open up for business again and bring money in the kitty was obvious after the meeting between religious leaders and government last week.

With this decision government leaves again the grounds of the rational decisions  and shows, that all their talk about science and taking advice from other countries is more of a smoke screen.

Most traditional churches were very quiet during the lockdown – while some pastors tried to mitigate poverty and hunger, the official representatives lacked somehow the “option for the poor”  in words and deeds.
The kairos of Covid-19, the reflection of this sign of the times and the chances it offered for a review of worship practice, theological considerations and house churches was often wasted and replaced by video and zoom maintaining status quo.

I missed the voice of churches in the last weeks and months, I also have not seen really lots of theological discernment here in South Africa. And I fear that the opening of places of worship trigger more hotspots than the opening of hotels and restaurants could ever have done. It has to do with the nature of the beast:
Religious ceremonies are not about distancing, they are about hugging, singing, touching, speaking in voices and trance if you are pentecostal – you simply can’t degree a thousand years all practice to change with the 1st of June.

I guess it is a choice of emotions and not science if politics or society allow for worship again – but then justice demands that also other sectors, where indeed livelihoods hang in the balance, can be open under the same strict measures to allow to earn the money, the religious leaders certainly will claim now again from their faithful.

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

Frustration remains prevalent

It was a somehow defiant performance of the President of South Africa yesterday when he addressed the nation – he certainly learned the lesson that referring to the questionable Covid-19 Command could bring him into hot waters. Especially after the Chief Justice of the country encouraged people to take government to court if their action does not meet constitutional standards.
Moving to level 3 not directly but with still one week to go shows that there is a need for more discussions amongst those in charge to fine tune new rules and regulations – the president appears much more reserved on details of the new rules and avoiding so being contradicted by his own collective.

And there were certain points completely ignored or only mentioned in passing by:

* The question of feeding those without food and the controversy about Minister Zulu’s attempt to control the NGO sector in this portfolio
* The question of the emergency pay out via SASSA which is not really happening on a great scale
* The question of the tourism industry which is bleeding on a scale not seen before and already now partly not reversible
* The question arising out of the Khoza court proceedings judging the behaviour of police and military
* The question of how the emergency solidarity fund is safeguarded against corruption and how it is really administered
* The question of the black market for tobacco products which eliminates the advertised advantage of forcing smokers to stop smoking

As a president one has to have a feeling for the prevalent debates in society and to address those, especially in times of crisis. So the question has to be asked:
Is it a sign of complete disconnect with “our people” or the fear to hurt the ideology of the ruling party not to voice discontent with comrades in public but leave the discourse behind close doors.

Be it as it may be – there were clear signs that the unhappiness and frustration and the danger of these boiling over has reached the highest echelons of government. And this is a first step in the right direction. The coming days will show how the small print will be spelled out by the relevant ministers and the lady in charge: Dlamini-Zuma.  Her past track-record and her crusade against smoking while intrinsic connected to those cashing in on the black market makes her current position and power in a normal democratic society unbearable. But as said: in a normal democratic society. South Africa has still a long way to go to achieve this status.

If Covid-19 has positive aspects so is certainly one of them the mere fact, that this crisis showed all the cracks in our young democracy left after all the state capture and looting. Lots to work on to make South Africa a vibrant democratic state where the rule of law and the respect for human rights and human dignity is paramount at any given moment.

Filed under: General, 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, , , , , , , ,

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