Garnett Roper | Constant Spring Market the new Naboth's vineyard
The Gleaner story of a nameless official of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) declaring that the option of vendors of the Constant Spring Market being allowed to use the empty space to the rear has been considered and discarded reminds me of the Old Testament story of Naboth's vineyard.
Vendors who have been selling in the Constant Spring Market for decades have been given notice to quit by September 30, 2018, that is in six weeks. No alternative location has been offered to the vendors. The vendors have claimed that the widening of Constant Spring Road is a ruse being used to get them off one of the most prime retail vending spaces in the city.
They point out that only 1.2 metres of the market is needed for the widening of the road. The remaining three acres at the back of the existing structure could be used in part to give them a chance to continue to earn a livelihood.
The rejection by the KSAMC of their request to be accommodated at the back of the market means that after September 30, the bulldozers will move in and demolish the market, and with it the livelihoods of 78 vendors. Many of them have constructed shops and stalls at their own expense, and all are compliant in paying their weekly market fee and annual licensing fees to the KSAMC for decades.
The Old Testament story of Naboth's vineyard, found the Book of 1 Kings, is about an incident in the reign of King Ahab and his wife Queen Jezebel in which Naboth owned land contiguous to the palace that had been in his family for centuries. Ahab wanted to buy the land to build a palace garden, but Naboth refused to sell. Jezebel concocted a criminal conspiracy to have Naboth stoned to death. Ahab then expropriated Naboth's land.
The incident in the Old Testament is not a mere anecdote. It was the defining incident of the dynasty of the Omrides (Ahab's family) and the ethos of tyranny, caprice and oppression of the people that signal the moral and spiritual decline of the nation of Israel.
It was the incident that earned the Prophet Elijah the nickname 'the troubler of Israel' because it was Elijah who went to Naboth's vineyard when Ahab was taking possession of it and called him and promised condemnation on his reign, his wife and his legacy.
More important, Naboth's vineyard has come historically to be emblematic of tyrants and despots. When, in 1974, in Durban, South Africa, the apartheid regime wanted more settlements for white people in the port city on the Indian Ocean, they rezoned Warwick and Grey Street and Berea Road as an exclusive white neighbourhood and to that end decimated hundreds of Indian (known at that time as coloured) villages, displacing thousands.
Back in Constant Spring, Jamaica, vendors who have been scrupulous in their adherence to law - even their protest has been scrupulously legal - will be visited by injustice. They have gone to court in order to get a written notice; they had previously been given a verbal notice.
They have been eminently reasonable in their approach. They have sought audience with their member of parliament, who has not met with them but instead came out in defence of the demolition of the market as a done deal.
And all along they have made one simple demand that they be allowed to do business and earn a living, in the same way Discount Pharmacy across the road from them has, and in the same way Khemlani Mart and Manor Centre down the road from them have been allowed. They are willing to rebuild stalls themselves, and comply with any new requirement.
And still, according to The Gleaner, their plea has fallen on deaf ears.
When Elijah, the troubler of Israel, warned Ahab in Naboth's vineyard, he promised him that the same dogs that licked Naboth's blood would lick Ahab's. He said that dogs would lick Queen Jezebel's blood at the wall of Jezreel. Elijah said that because they had roused God's anger, the dynasty of the Omrides would not survive and the kingdom would slip away.
And it came to pass exactly as Elijah said it would.
A word to the wise is sufficient.
- The Rev Dr Garnett Roper is president of the Jamaica Theological Seminary. Email feedback to email@example.com.