Land-grabbing displaces the poor

Scripture has so many passages about greed. Yet, these warnings often fall on deaf years.

Oct 19, 2019

By Anil Netto
Scripture has so many passages about greed. Yet, these warnings often fall on deaf years.

When you think about it, why should we have people waiting many days for a hospital procedure to heal or to improve a condition? Or why should anyone go hungry? Why should anyone be homeless?.

Politics is supposed to cover the way countries are governed with laws and regulations and how they go about making decisions. Now, we often think that those decisions should be about serving the common good.

Many years ago, I gave a talk about human rights to the youth wing of a political party. I sensed that many of them had not entered politics to serve the common good but to advance their own interests.

Some people do enter politics full of idealism and zest for change, but that is sometimes eroded over time by the company they keep.

Sometimes, politics is subverted and becomes more the art of pretending to serve the common good while actually serving vested personal, crony or corporate interests.

In recent years, politics has increasingly focused on land. Land is limited in supply especially in urban areas. Huge corporations may eye land belonging to others who have lived on the land for generations eg indigenous peoples, farmers and fishing communities. Business interests may see dollar signs floating above the land where  these people reside.

As more and more people move to the cities, speculation in land intensifies. The demand for prime land pushes up land prices.

The next thing you know there are plans for high rise condos, land-grabbing, land reclamation and gentrification of heritage areas. These often displace ordinary people, pushing them elsewhere to the margins of cities of great wealth.

It is no coincidence that Jesus operated in the peripheries of the great cities of his time:

Sepphoris, the culturally diverse major city in Galilee; Tiberius, the capital and port at the Lake of Galilee; Caesarea, the Roman capital of Palestine; Samaria Sebeste, the provincial centre and the wealthy city of Jerusalem. Jesus seemed to keep his distance from these places. Sepphoris was just was few miles away in the northwest from Nazareth, which itself was along a trading route to Syria. When he started his ministry Jesus used Capernaum, a smallish town of several thousand residents, along the northern shore of Galilee as his base. 

Jerusalem in the south was a city of contrasts, a place of influential leaders and tax gatherers and religious leader a cosy network. Summer homes, country estates and large parks on the one hand, and slum dwellers and the destitute, on the other.

The vaults of the Temple stored huge deposits. Much of this wealth was also extracted from pilgrims from the country side who attended the major festivals at the Temple. Many of the farmers in the countryside may have lost their land after falling into debt after poor harvests.

The large deposits in the Temple vaults were also lent to the poor at high interest or exchange rates.

So when Jesus overturned the tables of the money lenders, his move struck at the heart of the economic system that had allowed this large disparity of wealth and in decent opulence right smack in the centre of the house of God.

Jesus saw how some people had used their positions of power and religion to lord it over the people. They had manipulated the people’s simple faith to extract immense wealth from them, perpetuating  or even widening the gulf in wealth and income.

This did not sit well with Jesus, in whom the Wisdom and Justice of the Father was incarnated as he wandered around the countryside and the peripheries of the great cities of his time. He saw first hand the suffering of the people and the huge economic and religious burdens placed on them.

No wonder he cried in Luke 6: 24-25:

“But alas for you who are rich:
you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have plenty to eat now:
you shall go hungry. Alas for you who
are laughing now: you shall mourn and weep.”

The Church today sees land as part of the common good. Not too long ago, land-grabbing emerged as a major concern in the Synod for Africa in October 2009.

To oppose this assault, the Synod urged the Church to “educate the People of God and enable them to challenge unjust decisions in these matters”. It also called for a suitable juridical framework which takes into account the interests of countries and their people. Governments had to “respect the traditional land rights and to recognise them by law”.

The synod called for a guarantee to ensure that people are protected against “un just alienation of their land and access to water which are essential goods for the human person”.

Total Comments:0