Since the dawn of history, poverty and human deprivation have been recognized as the most central challenges and constraints to the development of human society and human beings. Sitting alongside these is the issue of wealth, its creation, possession, distribution, and our attitude towards it.
Theological teachings tell us that all human beings are created in the Image of God. For Him, we are equal. But we see that disparities between the rich and the poor in many parts of the world, including in southern Africa, are rising sharply. Fewer people are becoming increasingly ‘successful’ and ‘wealthy’ while a disproportionately large population is becoming even poorer. Ironically, this is happening in a world that God has blessed with abundance, enough to allow every living soul on earth to have a decent and comfortable life. Mahatma Gandhi once said: ‘The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed’.
As vicegerents of God on earth,3 human beings are stewards of creation, which they have to use to promote the public good. But we have abandoned divine guidance and adopted systems that are self-centred and promote materialism. Systems that reward corruption, speculation and laziness at the expense of hard work, innovation and creativity. Systems that pride in making some people masters over others, sustaining slave master relationships. Today’s economic system upholds inequalities, allowing a few to capture wealth and force millions of people to live in deprivation. Inequality fuels poverty. It provokes violence and insecurity. It denies millions of people their right to live full lives with dignity. Inequality challenges our societies as we know them today.