“So when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us.”
If only we had taken Chief Seattle’s words to heart. The ownership of land is such a contentious issue.
People being removed from their homes
South Africa still has many problems to solve before all her people can enjoy full freedom and equality: one of these is the possession of land. During the apartheid regime African people were forcefully removed from their homes and made to live in what were usually barren areas of the country where there was inadequate housing or none at all.
The present government has promised to give the land back to its rightful owners. This, of course, entails identifying what land belongs to whom and then either buying it back from its present occupants or taking it without compensation: it is both a political and a moral issue.
Realities have to be faced: commercial farming is basic to our economy and the production of food for our people: there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor, the result of the present unjust distribution of land, local chiefs exercise complete control over the land in their tribal areas. Resolution of these and many other problems will be neither simple nor easy but must be found.
The South African Catholic Bishops Conference have published a statement in which they point out: ‘There is no such thing as the absolute ownership of land. It is a matter of human and divine justice that people have access to the land and that it be equitably distributed. In this perspective, priority has to be given to the poor and the landless’.
They go on to say: “Both old and new ideas must be revived and re-imagined, as for example: the publication of successful models of shared ownership; the active encouragement, development and incentivisation of such models; the generous involvement of civil society and business; renewed economic decentralization and the revival of rural areas; the opening up of marketing bodies; support for socially responsible entrepreneurial initiatives; the encouragement of voluntary initiatives and the promotion of simple and selfless lifestyles…etc. These examples only serve to highlight the urgent need for new creativity in the conversation around land and the other factors of production.”
We really need to pray for a just solution to this problem. It is a challenge that faces everyone in South Africa – including the Church and Religious Congregations.
Immaculata Devine rsm
South African Province