Original Research

Reframing the Tower of Babel narrative for economic justice within the South African context

Mark Rathbone
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 3 | a3490 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i3.3490 | © 2016 Mark Rathbone | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 May 2016 | Published: 30 September 2016

About the author(s)

Mark Rathbone, School of Business Management, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa


The Tower of Babel narrative is profoundly connected to the history of South Africa and its interpretation in the Dutch Reformed Church document entitled Human Relations and the South African Scene in the Light of Scripture (1976), which was used to justify apartheid. In this article, it is argued that this understanding of the narrative is due to racist framing that morally justified the larger apartheid narrative. The Tower of Babel narrative was later reframed for liberation and reconciliation by Desmond Tutu. However, apartheid had an impact not only on the sociopolitical dynamics of South Africa. Submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by business and labour highlight the impact of apartheid on the economy and specifically black labour. These revelations are responsible for new questions regarding the economics of the narrative that arise and may enrich the understanding of the Tower of Babel narrative. This focus on the economic aspect of the narrative is also supported by historical research on the Tower of Babel narrative that reveals that the dispersion of the people on the plain of Shinar may refer to the demise of the Sumerian empire, which was among other influences brought about by a labour revolt. In this regard, the narrative is a theological reflection on the demise of an unjust economic system that exploited workers. The purpose of this article is to critically explore this economic justice aspect embedded in the narrative in order to determine whether this reframing of the narrative is plausible. This is particularly important within the post-apartheid context and the increase of economic problems such as unemployment, poverty and economic inequality.


Tower of Babel; Economic justice; Truth and Reconciliation Commission


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Crossref Citations

1. The Marikana Massacre, labour and capitalism: Towards a Ricoeurian alternative
Jaco Boëttger, Mark Rathbone
Koers - Bulletin for Christian Scholarship  vol: 81  issue: 3  first page: 10  year: 2016  
doi: 10.19108/KOERS.81.3.2263