When Mondli Makhanya wrote an article claiming the land reform is a big lie because people live in informal settlements it dawned upon me that the subject is very poorly understood.
It seems his logic is that since most people live in squatter camps (that is what informal settlements are) and hostels they do not need land. In his imagination of solutions to South Africa's social problems those who live in hostels and 'informal settlements' should remain where they are and only seek to be employed by others.
In this scheme of things, they should never aspire to own houses with yards. If you are going to upgrade them to houses with yards you are going to need land.
People also seem to believe that since the land problem was created by the actions of whites forcibly taking land from blacks, the solution is to simply to 'reverse' the colonial sins by replacing white with blacks.
The truth is, the land problem is part of a host of problems created by British and Afrikaner racism. Problems that are structured into the fabric of society like the roots of a tree in the soil. Removing the problem will mean extreme disturbance to both the tree and the soil, but it is absolutely necessary.
For example the racist urban planning paradigm of keeping black townships far away from 'white' industrial areas, means that today a labourer needs to wake up at three in the morning in Soweto in order not to be late for wake in Isando at seven oclock.
Their manager who earns much more and lives in Kempton Park, can wake up at 6:30 and still make it to work at 7:00. If they both knock off at 16:00 the manager can pick up his child at creche by 17:00 while the Soweto worker will only get home after 9pm and will find their children already sleeping. Even parenting of their children is affected.
'Land reform' is not about giving farms to blacks. Agricultural land reform alone will not solve a system that was specifically and intentionally designed to turn blacks into cheap, underpaid and jackboot controlled labour. The system achieved its goals by taking resources, including but not limited to land, away from blacks. The simple objective was to remove as much means of self-sustenance from blacks as possible such that they would have no choice but to become cheap labour for farms, mines and factories.
The spacial planning of racist states also took away a very important resource from blacks, time. People were placed far away from places of economic activity and productivity, so that they spend most of their time simply travelling.
Those snide anecdotes about blacks always being late do not arise out of the lack of timekeeping of blacks, but from a deliberate spatial design which made blacks travel long distances using unreliable or non-existent transport system to get to appointments.
The racist system also made sure that wherever they were placed, blacks would not have enough resources to start any other economic activity besides being cheap labour. Thus the townships and hostels are not suitable for most other economic activities either.
The point I want to make is that if you imagine that land reform only means taking farms and giving them to blacks then you have got it completely wrong just like Robert Mugabe. If you think land is only for growing food then I wonder if your house is standing on water.
Tell me, if a few unemployed young men in Knights informal settlement or Cape Flats wants to start the simple activity of collecting plastic bags and bottles for onward transport to a recycling centre where are they going to heap their plastics and how are trucks going to be able reach that yard to collect.
In the current setup they would have to rent or hijack someone's land with the attendant financial and legal problems that will definitely place an extra burden on the growth propects of their venture. Whereas someone who was granted land taken from blacks can set up a scrap yard, a parking lot for trucks, or even dweling units for rental at no cost in terms of land acquisition or rental.
This shows land reform is not just about farming but making land accessible for other activities including habitation, commerce, industry and the attendant wayleave.
The young men from Kayelitsha hostels may not need a farm, but they definitely will need a hectare or so for their recycling operation or scrapyard. Do they have that hectare now? If they don't how are they going to get it without land reform? That hectare will need a public road leading to it, which means more land than just a hectare.
So instead of the country not needing land reform because people live in informal settlements the exact opposite is true. You need land reform to get people out of informal settlements and hostels. Even those who are only looking for jobs and not seeking self-sustenance on land, deserve the dignity of coming out of formal homes that are not overcrowded.
Let me stress that land reform needs a proper assessment of today's social needs. Land will be needed for decongesting urban settlements. Land will be needed for peri-urban activities. Lastly land will be needed for expanding black participation in agriculture, conservation, tourism and mining.
It would be a mistake to take the young men from Knights and give them a conservancy or game farm, when they have never seen a wild rabbit in their lifetimes, but it does not mean they do not need land.
To prevent the social problems created by land deprivation from leading to increased violence and collapse of society, land reform needs to happen fast and with it the reskilling of youngsters who have been brought up without any skills.
Squatter camps and hostels teeming with unskilled unresourced people are the reason why urgent and rapid land reform in the form of expropriation is needed.