Race against poverty

I’ve been to South Africa twice – the first time I managed to spend six weeks there. I went because I thought that in the story of black/white reconciliation I might learn about Protestant/Catholic reconciliation in Ireland. And I did. I came back feeling that South Africa was fortunate in having leaders of outstanding quality at a critical moment in its history – whereas the very length of the Irish troubles was an indictment of the quality of its political leadership. But I also came back feeling that the key issue was now poverty – and that the major issue for South Africa was the race to generate prosperity and to bring the benefits of that to the poorest of the poor before the frustration engendered by unrealised expectations boiled over into a fresh round of violence. No doubt there is more to Jacob Zuma than the very negative press he is receiving here at present but there is obviously real cause for concern. Either he has been elected because he may win the race against poverty – or he is a sign that South Africa has already lost it.

Closer to home, I gathered up my usual majestic view of the world and its issues and did a Thought for the Day this morning on tea towels and the secular society.

Aids Week

Coffin Shop – all sizes – across the road from the entrance to the Ulster Carpets factory in Durban when I visited. HIV rates were in the high 30%’s at that time. My most challenging moment? Sitting in a township house near Port Elizabeth – plastic sheeting to keep the rain out – with a lady who was obviously terminally ill with Aids. She hadn’t seen a doctor and had got medicines that other people suggested. We talked about it – falteringly – while an American medical soap played on the TV in the room. Medicine as entertainment in the presence of terminal illness. Then the priest I was with said, ‘David, will you pray with us?’

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