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 The past two weeks have been very interesting, with many political opinion pieces arising given the rise in petrol prices, state capture, ANC politics, the crazy man who runs the free world and South Africa’s most contentious issue: land reform! I too have cast my shadow of opinion on this issue before but perhaps rather than offer an opinion about the merits or demerits of land reform without compensation. I would like to offer an analysis and overview of the political windfalls that this issue has caused and what the implications of this are likely to be on the political spectrum as we move towards the 2019 elections.

The issue of land and the liberation of Africans have long been a mutually inclusive, with land dispossession the main cause of African oppression and poverty, with the many wars fought bearing witness to this struggle. The very creation of the ANC was a response to land dispossession, which for us as people spoke to our identity, our humanity and eco-political system. After the 1906 Bambatha rebellion, the battle for liberation could no longer be fought with spears but there was a need for a reconfiguration of the modus operandi and a need to pull all oppressed people together in order to fight for our humanity and the land and thus the birth of the ANC. The battle for freedom was pseudo-won given that while Africans received their political emancipation, the battle for land ownership that was intertwined with their battle for political emancipation remained a struggle, whose victory they were and still are yet to taste.

However, the capitalist world that informed our new political contract would not allow for a programme so “drastic” as expropriation without compensation and we found ourselves moving at a snail’s pace on an issue that has been at the heart of the African story for more than a century.

However, now this issue has arisen in a time so unique, it feels like we are at the crust of a new political story, one that is perhaps more important than 1994, yet less magical/fairy than our “miracle” transition to democracy. Yet this time around it is not the “great” ANC that is leading this charge but an ANC breakaway party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. This party’s ideology is a crystal clear one; it is calling for the destruction of capitalism as the economic system of this country. They blame it for black poverty and see government’s policy of land reform in exchange for market price compensation as an example of how the market system continues to leave the indigenous people of this country landless and poor. The EFF through exploiting the people struggle for land has as some would say “hijacked” the struggle for land from the ANC and in many ways have rattled ANC’s identity as the central liberation movement for the return of land to its rightful owners. The implications of this is been ANC’s shift from being the dominant voice on the issue to it playing a reactive role.

This was made clear when the ANC supported an EFF motion to adopt land reform without compensation; this after it rejected the same EFF motion a year ago.

What changed? Well Ramaphosa had just won a slim victory against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the ANC conference in December. She and her backers pushed the populist line for radical economic transformation in a bid to steer support for her.

She however lost but he did not win a convincing mandate and in a bid to fold the influence of this group Ramaphosa needed to adopt a populist issue that has enough political capital and widespread support among mostly black people and that is land reform without compensation. By taking this stance the man steeped in the capitalist system that EFF and other left leaning sections of the political spectrum “hate”, is attempting to kill two birds with one stone; he seeks to improve ANC election prospects by presenting the ANC as party that is dedicated to radical economic transformation and on the other hand he is fighting internal ANC battles in a bid to ensure his prospects of re-election as ANC president are not threatened by the pro-Zuma faction.

Land reform is thus the topic by which he seeks to gather the people’s mandate for his own political interests. Nonetheless, while this risk may reward him with political survival, a thorn has arisen from a province whose support he didn’t win against Dlamini-Zuma, the Zuma stronghold, KwaZulu Natal. The report on land by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, called for land under the custodianship of traditional leaders should rather be placed under the people directly. This report did not spare the Ingonyama Trust, a National Party/ KwaZulu  leaders’ agreement that saw 1/3 of land in KwaZulu Natal under the control of the King and administration of amakhosi and izinduna. Issues around whether the trust has used state money to pursue programmes that would improve the livelihood of the people has been questioned, including calls by the Trust for people to give up their right of ownership for long-term leases on the land have come under protest.

The report is just but a recommendation and is not an official government policy. However, in classical South African style, traditional leaders including His Majesty King Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu have in what I believe is an overreaction to the matter, placed a stern warning against such plans to repeal the act, warning the ANC government and all critics of the act about an impending war should land under the custodianship of the king be taken away. This issue is another shift-maker, In that the ANC which currently controls KZN after replacing the IFP in 2004 through support of the UDM now faces a challenge of losing support in the province. ANC infighting over positions and access to state resources and the fall of the NF, Pan IFP breakaway, has seen ANC wanting in recent municipal elections, where IFP made resurgence and won over key constituencies whose vote will matter come 2019. The Ingonyama trust is the brainchild of IFP leader Chief Mangusuthu Buthelezi, who at the time was the Chief Minister of the KwaZulu homeland. His party has firmly supported the king and this is not surprising given that he is a member of the Zulu royal family, a Chief of the Buthelezi clan and the king’s traditional prime minister. ANC’s lacklustre response to the Motlanthe report and IFP firm position on the matter has created a perception that ANC is an enemy of the Zulu people and the IFP the saver and custodian of Zulu interests.

The implications of this would see the ANC lose key votes, especially from those who are firm supporters of the king. Moreover, the king himself has told the people to think carefully of who they vote for; this can be seen as an indirect way of telling his “subjects” to ditch the ANC in favour of his uncle’s IFP. This is significant, given the king’s influence among traditionalist Zulu people. Therefore, Ramaphosa and the ANC through not dealing with this matter directly are creating a political storm where IFP could benefit as we move towards the elections. Is this worth the risk, given the fall in ANC’s urban support?

Lastly, there is the Zuma factor. President Zuma may have resigned but he continues to be active in KZN, speaking at church services, outside courtrooms and ANC events in the province. When I saw the ANC  Umkhonto We Sizwe military Veterans Association( MKMVA ) secretary and staunch Zuma supporter Carl Niehaus address the imbizo by the king, it affirmed my suspicions that the third hand of Zuma resides heavily in this matter. Could it be that Zuma and his faction are using this issue to destabilize Ramaphosa’s project to unite the ANC in KZN and to what degree is Zuma willing to pursue this project in hindsight of the risk of ANC losing control of KZN come 2019? Time will tell, yet there is no doubt that the land issue is a political shift-maker, my advice, brace yourself this will be a bumpy ride!

Musa Mdunge

holds a BA Honours Degree in International Studies, majoring in Economics and Politics.he is a member of the Golden Key Honour Society. In 2015 he was awarded the prestigious Mandela Rhodes Scholarship. He is currently enrolled at Monash University, South Africa, reading for a MPhil specializing in International Studies. He writes in his personal capacity.