God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Flatten the curve?

“Flatten the curve” is the slogan to be heard all over the world – and South Africa was following the stringent measurements which keeps society at bay in so many countries. But instead of balanced measurements South Africa opted for the more Chinese approach clamping down as at many movements as possible even prescribing in detail what items could be sold or not when venturing out to go shopping. Police and military was sent out to enforce the lock-down, and they continue to try to stop any unnecessary travel of citizens.
Having a day when death by police brutality wins against the number of death through the Coronavirus certainly tells a story on its own. There are many questions whether physical distancing is working in the high density townships of South Africa, even more whether the ban of cigarettes or fresh air and some exercise really make sense.
But there is another question lingering in the air which is of equivalent or even more important:

Does the “flatten the curve” approach is feasible in a country which just was downgraded to junk status; a country economically falling apart, unemployment on a very high scale, more people on social grants than in work and a national debt exceeding 3 trillion Rand and going up to 4.5 trillion in the next years?
How long can a country, after years of state run corruption and the current constant lingering in no-man’s land of real decision-making in this regard flatten the curve before it is economically and socially broken beyond repair in the lifetime of those anyhow currently struggling?

Virologists tell us that without flattening the curve the death toll would be very high but the virus run out of steam in a couple of weeks while flattening the curve will save thousands of lives and prevent the collapse of the anyhow weakened health system. South Africa has seen in the Aids Pandemic what it means to lose people on a daily base in their hundreds. It can vouch for the tears and pain of an almost lost generation and the ignorance of a government towards its people. This time no one can complain about any ignorance – being prescribed what you can buy is the opposite of ignorance – one almost has the impression, there is never a middle ground in South Africa.

So the question is how to balance all this in a way which makes the most sense? How to take the people with on the journey beating the virus without destroying the future of the country economically?
The Covid-19 pandemic and how to react is a question in the crossroads of economic and ethical questions, it wonders our approach to life and meaning of life. And it certainly makes unmistakable clear that human mankind is not the master of the soil but part of something much bigger, part of the lot which we call the universe.

This is obviously not only a question for South Africa but the world as such. Nevertheless, in a country with its very unique and painful history, its still open wounds of the past and its attempt to walk as a democratic society, the challenge to balance remains.
Authoritarian solutions like in China are not adequate nor copies of the sophisticated European systems – we South Africans should have “ubuntu” as the baseline to find our own way to deal with the curve.

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

17.10.2009 Silent into the grave

No, no, it’s fine. Everything’s okay. Whenever we ask Maggie how she is doing, she always gives the same answer. But we can see that she is getting thinner and weaker by the day. It’s obvious that she struggles to clean the rooms in our guesthouse, she visibly strains just shaking pillows or emptying the bins. And yet she insists: Don’t worry about me. Maggie has worked at the Mediterranean Villa for two years. She is 48 years old. Her husband died in 2004, and since then she has had to find her own way with three children. The two older daughters don’t work, the youngest smokes Tik – crystal methamphetamines – which is all the rage in Cape Town’s drug scene. It’s disastrous for the whole family. While the mother works, the daughter sells all the household’s possessions to buy more drugs. But the money is never enough to gratify her addiction. Maggie’s daughter enters a vicious cycle of crime: she steals, she is arrested, mother bails her out, she does not reform, is arrested again, etc. And Maggie works and earns the money needed to bail her out.
But soon Maggie won’t be able to do that any more, because there is a disorder about which she doesn’t want to talk. She also doesn’t want to see a doctor. All our efforts at persuading her are futile. She makes excuses: “Let it be, it’s fine, I have no time for doctors, it’s just the stress.” Both of us know that it isn’t stress, but the stigma. It’s the dread of being marked out and ostracised if her neighbours in the township should know what ails her. That disease: HIV/Aids. It’s always others who get infected – neighbours, strangers, outsiders. The stigma is remorseless. It draws on ignorance, rumours, credulity and moral failure. It leads to the exclusion of the affected. “Don’t touch me”. “Use another toilet.” One hears such phrases every day. And sometimes: “You’re not one of us any more.”
It’s like a social death penalty – and that happens in a culture which proclaims the principle of ubuntu. A keyword in Africa’s mutually supportive societies, it can be defined as one being human only through other people. Aids. Maggie won’t even say the word. Her husband’s death certificate also doesn’t say what exactly caused his death. He just was very ill. Nobody needs to know more. And that’s why so many people refuse to go to a doctor. “No problem; it’s not that bad.” Always the same excuses, the same pleading, the same silent complaints, and sometimes also tears – and it goes on like this for weeks. Finally, in November 2006, I prevail and take Maggie to the doctor for a blood test. She refuses to accept the result. No, she doesn’t have this sickness; she isn’t ill. The doctor puts her off work for six months. She gets weaker and weaker, her body is falling apart; it’s too late for the medications which could extend her life. Soon, on a sunny January morning, she dies. The fear of stigmatisation killed Maggie – a fate shared by many thousands of her fellow HIV-positive South Africans.

from the book: Gott,AIDS, Afrika – Kiepenheuer & Witch Verlag 2007

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, Society and living environment, , , , , ,

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