ANC fields a young face for land

Experienced: Ronald Lamola spent part of his childhood on a farm and was the ANC Youth League deputy president when he and league president Julius Malema called for land expropriation. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Experienced: Ronald Lamola spent part of his childhood on a farm and was the ANC Youth League deputy president when he and league president Julius Malema called for land expropriation. (Delwyn Verasamy)

ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Ronald Lamola wants to use his experience on a farm to fight for the land ownership rights of farm residents who face the threat of eviction.

The son of farmworker parents, Lamola said his upbringing in the late 1980s on a farm in the Komatipoort area of Mpumalanga exposed him to the uncertainty and disruption of abrupt removals.

“The farm did not belong to us. My father was a farm worker and my mother was also a farm worker. So we still had to go back to the village [Cunningmore village in Bushbuckridge].
[On the farm] they were given a compound to stay in, which I grew up in up until I was 12 years old or so. And my primary education was on the farm.

“It [the move back to the village] did disrupt my life. On the farm, they were teaching us in Siswati. When I went to the village where my father comes from they were now teaching me in Shangaan. And you need to adjust to a new language and new way of life,” said Lamola, who is now a member of the ANC’s economic transformation subcommittee.

According to data provided by the ANC, nearly four million people have been evicted from farms since 1994. Lamola said evictions were still rife in parts of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

The ANC-led government has been criticised for not taking adequate action against those who illegally evict farmworkers. The Security of Tenure Amendment Bill, which is intended to legislate against farm evictions, is yet to be signed into law and is still sitting with the National Council of Provinces.

Also part of its renewed strategy on land, the ANC has vowed to fast- track 22 000 land restitution claims by farm residents living on land they want restored to them as owners.

“We believe that, because of their vulnerability, this issue might even need presidential attention. Because farmworkers and dwellers will not have money to defend themselves, that’s why they are being evicted on a day-to-day basis. Because they are vulnerable,” Lamola said.

READ MORE: ANC to use current Constitution to test land expropriation without compensation

“If we can, for example, settle the issues of labour tenants with immediate effect, what we can unlock is about 12% of available commercial farm land. And this will be with 75% of them being emerging farmers. So it’s huge. It’s not like we are looking for some useless land. This is available commercial farm land.”

Today the former ANC Youth League deputy president runs his own legal practice and works for the ANC, where he doubles as a member of the national working committee and national executive committee.

With the land issue expected to take centre stage during next year’s election campaign, the ANC has put Lamola in the forefront of its land debate, a move calculated at countering the young leaders of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance.

On Monday, the ANC held a briefing on its land summit. The session was attended by economic transformation subcommittee chairperson Enoch Godongwana but it was Lamola, Godongwana’s junior in the party, who delivered the main party statement and fielded many of the media questions.

Along with EFF leader Julius Malema, Lamola was part of the ANC Youth League generation who pushed the debate on expropriation of land without compensation. Under Lamola and Malema, the league also took a resolution at its 2011 congress to nationalise the mines and banks.

Although the league’s policy suggestions were adopted at the ANC’s 2012 policy conference, they failed to resonate at the party’s Mangaung elective conference months later.

The league was also disbanded that same year and its president, Malema, expelled. Lamola and other top league officials were suspended.

Malema would go on to form the EFF, which has taken a strong stance on expropriation without compensation and has supported illegal land occupations. The EFF has also claimed a victory on the land debate by bringing before Parliament the motion to amend section 25 of the Constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation, which was supported by the ANC.

With land likely to be used by many parties as an electioneering ticket for the 2019 national polls, Lamola’s prominence not only as a young voice but also as a former leader of the youth league that once spearheaded the radical approach on land can be seen as the ANC’s attempt at matching the EFF’s youthful and radical exuberance on land, which is gaining traction for the Red Berets.

For Lamola, young voices on the land debate are vital to address the land challenge faced by the youth.

“Almost 35% of farm dwellers or farmworkers are youth. And these youths are unable to emerge or get out of the farms. They are recycled inside the farms. The only thing they know is farming. But unfortunately they reside in the farms, but they don’t have access or ownership on the farms. So they can’t end up being farm owners. When we talk about the issue of farm dwellers, it also includes the youth and it also includes the women.”

READ MORE: Lamola on land expropriation: We need legislation as forceful as war

Besides the ANC’s efforts to process the existing land restitution claims, there are also plans to fast-track redistribution efforts. One of the recommendations of the land summit was for the adoption of a redistribution Bill that would outline how land would be expropriated without compensation for redistribution.

The current land claims that have been lodged with the government form part of the restitution process, the act of returning land to those from whom it was taken historically. This process involves a detailed claims procedure to prove historical ownership.

Redistribution, on the other hand, entails a process of ensuring that available land is adequately shared among those who live on it. According to Lamola, this process would not involve claims to prove historical ownership, which would be especially useful for urban areas, where land for human settlement is scarce.

The redistribution Bill the ANC hopes to pass will introduce a change in legislation that will allow state-owned entities that own large areas of land to release pockets of land for housing.

“It [redistribution] is not claim- based. It is the state saying, ‘let’s look at the available state-owned land; let’s release it. We will also look at privately owned land and see where it is located and how we can deal with apartheid spatial planning,” Lamola said.

“We anticipate [legal challenges]. That’s why we are saying, even if there are legal challenges, let the court decide. Let it be tested by the courts but let’s do it,” he said about plans to also redistribute unused private land.

The party is also discussing ideas about how to ensure individual ownership of communal land. Among the options are the possibilities of either giving title deeds to landowners or allowing ownership through some form of lease.

But traditional leaders, under whose custodianship communal land is held, have raised concerns about the financial implications of handing out title deeds to landowners, he said.

“Contralesa [the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa] raised a strong view that one of the challenges you might encounter is you will find that those who have money will now buy the land in the rural areas where the Africans are residing. Therefore they might end up also no longer having land if you title the land,” Lamola said.

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