ANC unpacks land reform in relaunched party magazine

Not so much a matter of "if" and "when", but "how" to effectively deal with land reform without bringing harm to the economy, is the central question experts and senior members of the ANC grapple with in the party's relaunched quarterly magazine, Umrabulo.

The latest edition of the magazine, which was published on Thursday, is assertively headlined, "Let's talk land reform". Among its contributors are President Cyril Ramaphosa, Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, former head of the policy and coordination advisory unit in the Presidency Joel Netshitenzhe and ANC national executive committee member Dr David Masondo.

What land should be redistributed? Who should get it? What should it be used for, how should it be valued, and who should pay for it? These are the questions they aim to answer.

Taking his cue from Ramaphosa, whose address to the ANC's workshop on land in May this year is used as the introductory article, Ngcukaitobi argues for a need-based land redistribution system that won't create new patterns of injustice.

An important prerequisite for the justified compulsory taking of the land is its "non-productive holding", the author of The Land is Ours submits.

"Beyond the complexities of history and moral justification, practical questions about the productive use of a limited resource like land must come to the fore. Thus, any redistributive model should start with the premise that land is not infinitely available and is to be productively used for the benefit of society."

Farmland lying fallow, and hijacked and abandoned buildings are examples of land that can be expropriated without compensation.

"Those parts of commercial farms that farm dwellers live on and use should furthermore be expropriated so that farm dwellers can use it to build secure lives and livelihoods that are independent of the current land owners," argues Dr Donna Hornby from the University of the Western Cape's Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas).

"This will not affect productivity or national food security since the land owners are not currently using these portions of land. The owners should not receive compensation because they have already benefited historically by using the isolation of farm dweller settlements to create conditions of extreme labour exploitation." 

Ngcukaitobi also argues for the redistribution of communal land, saying that it's a remnant of colonial rule under which the "political control was entrenched in the hands of government-selected tribal overlords, who owed no allegiance to the people, but to the masters who selected them".

It is, however, the closing paragraphs of Masondo's lengthy submission that provide food for thought as he inadvertently questions the real demand for land reform and advocates for the building of a popular movement for it.

According to Masondo, the success or failure of any reform is a function of the balance of power between contending forces. 

"Since expropriation of land without compensation will face opposition, it is therefore important to build a popular movement for land and agrarian reform," he argues.

"Even if the law will permit expropriation without compensation, without the demand from below, it will not happen. In fact, the land demand so far has not been backed by an organised landless people's movement, except in urban areas where the land demand is largely driven by housing needs associated with the desire to be closer to economic opportunities."