God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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, , , , , , , ,

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

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

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