It is time to return to the negotiating table to address the subject of land

Enoch F Phiri

Our nation is at a crossroads yet again. The unfinished business of our transition to a democratic nation has caught up with us and we can no longer hide.

South Africa is a beautiful country. Our country is well endowed with gold, silver, diamonds, and many other minerals. However, our country has among the highest income inequality gaps in the world. Since the dawn of democracy, we have seen the country’s economy rise but with very little impact on the lives of the majority.

Over the past 23 years we left the subject of economic transformation and land to politicians and the business community, however we are now at the point where we cannot just hope the situation will resolve itself.

During the days of apartheid the Christian community in South Africa was instrumental in leading the nation to confront the injustice of the time, but since the dawn of democracy the Church has moved to the periphery. Now is the time to lead the nation once again to confront the current injustice of land and economic transformation.

Since 1994 we have adopted many policies aimed at addressing the subject of economic transformation. The first policy was Reconstruction and Development Programme, this was replaced by the Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme, and then the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa, which was in turn replaced by the New Growth Path after President Thabo Mbeki was removed until we ended up with the National Development Plan. And now, after realising these policies have failed us, we are talking radical economic transformation.

These policies have not archived their intended objectives. There are many reasons for policy implementation failure, such as lack of capacity and resources but I believe these policies would have come short of transforming the economy anyway. This is because these were aimed at economic transformation that is entirely disconnected to the subject of land. And it is this subject of land I believe we as the church should begin to give direction on.

Look at the Bible, which we all know is not just a holy book but rather a historical record of true events of how God has over generations dealt with nations on many subjects.

One of the subjects that is clearly close to God’s heart is the subject of land. Whenever God wanted to free people from bondage he promised and gave them land. This was the case when he delivered the children of Israel from Egypt. Whenever God promised to restore a people, he promised them land and gave them land. He spoke through the words of Prophet Jeremiah when the Israel and Judah had been taken to captivity and cities destroyed, that He would redeem them from captivity and restore the land back to them.

It is time that the Church leads the discussion about land ownership in South Africa, says Enoch Phiri.Picture: Nelius Rademan/Nuus Noord

God also warned the children of Israel not to covet the land He had given to other nations and He set clear boundaries for their portion. Anything beyond these borders could easily be deemed as pure ambition and perhaps greed.

This is the God of justice and mercy who we in South Africa need to allow back to our national dialogue to help us as a nation to know how to address the challenge of land, inequality and poverty we are faced with.

Because of His love and compassion He did not want to see the people He created in His image trapped in a perpetual cycle of bondage, poverty and landlessness. He understood that one of the basic human needs is shelter, and there must be land for this shelter to be built. I believe that land is to God a starter pack to life that every child born must have access to.

Unfortunately for Africa, when our liberation was proclaimed in the 1950s it was not as God would have it. When God sent Moses to Pharaoh demanding that he let His people go, Pharaoh, after few plagues and pressure for his people began to negotiate Israel’s freedom.

He suggested they could go but leave behind their animals and children. I can imagine that at this point some of the slaves were ready accept this deal because of the pain of slavery they had been under. This is where Africa lost it. We accepted a deal that required that excluded wealth and land which is the inheritance of our children.

It is time to return to the negotiating table and address the subject of land and wealth. Failure to address this subject will have devastating effects. Nelson Mandela gave the Church a responsibility to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission understanding the need for forgiveness and peace. It is time now that the government should once more give the Church to lead the Truth and Restitution Commission before South Africa is plunged into more violence and destruction.

Faith communities met this week to discuss the issue of land in South Africa. This is an extract from Pastor Enoch Phiri’s address

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