On the labourers at the side of the road

May 9, 2017 at 6:56 am (Parables, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , )

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wealthy man who was making renovations to his house and drove down Rosmead Avenue at 7am on a Tuesday morning. He found some men sitting on the side of the road waiting for work. Pulling over, he called over to a man holding a paint roller, another holding a chainsaw and a third sitting next to a box of tools. He agreed to pay them R300 each for the day’s labour – a daily wage twice as large as the minimum wage set by the government. He set them to work at his home.

A few hours later, around 10 in the morning, he drove back down Rosmead and finding a few more men, agreed to the same rate and set them to work. When he went back down at midday, he saw a man who had been waiting for work since 6 am. The man was looking down at his shoes, dejection found in the line of his slumped shoulders. He was so engrossed in looking at the ground that he didn’t even notice the bakkie which had pulled up. Quickly recognizing the call for work, he jumped in the bakkie cab. When they returned to the house the others were already eating lunch. The wealthy man beckoned to the newly arrived worker, telling him to get out and join the others in their meal before starting work. Once more, around 4pm, the wealthy man was driving down Rosmead and found still more men sitting on the side of the road.

He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He ushered them into the vehicle and they too joined the workers on the construction site.

At around 5pm it was time for the workers to leave. A few of the wealthy man’s guests arrived and were sitting around in the garden drinking cocktails as the man gathered the workers and paid them each the wage of R300. The guests looked on in amazement. One of the guests, a lady, began questioning the workers: “Are you not angry that you who worked from early in the morning, skilled labourers who brought your own tools, received the same wage as the men who came an hour before the end of the work day? Isn’t that unfair? And what of the man who arrived at lunch time who shared the food that should have been all yours? He hadn’t even worked yet, before he was sitting down, putting his feet up and having tea!” The more she asked, the angrier she became. The workers didn’t respond, but thanking the wealthy man for the work, went together on their way.

When the workers had left, the wealthy man joined his friends. The woman who had been questioning the workers was furious. She was planning some house renovations and asked her friend whether he wasn’t ashamed that he was flaunting his wealth and driving labour costs up for all the rest of them. Others chimed in: “Now all labourers will expect R300?” “Don’t you think they’ll just stop by the shebeen on the way home and drink it away?” “I can’t afford to pay R300/day. What am I supposed to do now?” “You know they would have worked for you for half that amount. These people don’t need that much – they make do on much less.” “If you pay unskilled labourers the same as skilled labourers, there’s no incentive for people to improve themselves? Wage tiers are put in place for a reason.”

On and on the friends went. Eventually the wealthy man had enough. “What is it to you how I spend my money? You’re angry because my generosity highlights your stinginess. You accuse me, to justify yourselves. You snakes, trying to get away with the bare minimum required by law and hoarding up wealth, gorging yourselves on the labour of others.”

Sullenly, the guests got up to leave. As they went away they murmured amongst themselves, listing out the things they do for poor people and hating the wealthy man’s arrogance.

“Just like him, to try guilt-trip us into giving away everything we have. Well, just wait, because when he’s squandered his wealth away, those men are still going to be sitting day in and day out on the side of the road waiting for work. And then they’ll be forced to take anything they can get,” the lady grumbled.

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on the Geography of Justice

October 16, 2014 at 7:45 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , )

As husband-man and I have returned to South Africa we’ve begun thinking about where we want to root ourselves and how the space we choose to be in might best reflect our desire to love our neighbors well, to be part of reconciliation in this beautiful land, to rebuild and repair. As we’ve begun to speak about where we might land, I have been profoundly struck by how our society still reflects the history of our country.

So much of South Africa’s neighborhoods are still sharply racially and class segregated and this is no wonder. Apartheid was in large part upheld by the spatial engineering of physical space and geographies. Land was zoned according to ethnicity/race and groups were assigned demarcated areas to live in. Buffer zones of natural landscape features and man-made infrastructure were employed as physical barriers to keep people apart. Transportation, electricity, and water infrastructure as well as centers of commerce were by extension inaccessible to many persons of color who were often assigned land on the very outskirts of cities/towns.

In South Africa, we don’t have metaphorical walls keeping us separate and disconnected; we have physical demarcations of division. Train lines, roads, rivers, mountains, and scrubland are still the tangible expressions and reproductions of our separation.

Apartheid was not only a political, legal and economic dispensation – it was a spatial dispensation.

The inequitable distribution of resources, services and access in South African communities is still largely one of the physical legacies of apartheid.  As Edward Soja puts it, justice has a geography. Injustice is graphically manifested. Our spaces remain imbued with the remnants of the historical project, with power and with privilege or with the lack of both. We are positioned and continue to re-position in ways that reproduce and reinforce inequality.

How can we begin asking the hard questions about the socio-spatial distributions of wants and needs in our cities – access to job opportunities, to health care, to good air quality? How might we begin to recognize that the morality of place and physicality of space – accessibility, walkability, transport equity – is not solely the mandate of government; it is the explicit remit of the church.

“Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you.” Jeremiah 29:7. The peace that is required here is shalom. Not merely the absence of conflict but the flourishing of life.  From the dust of the land we were created and to the dust of the land we will return. Our beginning and end is with the earth, place, space. The use of land not only reflects equitableness, but our relationship to it imbues our sense of placement, home, rootedness, safety, flourishing, and survival. “In whose image is space created?” asks David Harvey. Does space in South Africa reflect the image of God reconciling mankind to one another? Is the Kingdom reflected on earth; is “thy will be done” mirrored back to heaven? Does place and space reflect our shalom imperative?

If our separateness had such an intentionality and physicality behind its formation, then surely our reconciliation has to be both intentional and physical. We cannot be content with merely reaching over the invisible walls; we have to begin crossing the visible streets. What are the tangible ways we can spatially re-engineer our lives to create geographies of justice? How would we tread if we really believed that this ground, the ground, is holy ground?

Husband-man and I we are wrestling with whether breaking down the physical demarcations of our division might mean moving in to the places we’re still socially (if no longer legally) not supposed to be in.

Let’s take off our shoes, and walk as though we believe in the sacredness of place.

geography of my soul

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