KwaZulu-Natal’s traditional leaders appear to be on a collision course with the ANC about the governing party’s decision to dissolve the Ingonyama Trust, which controls three million hectares of tribal land on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini.
The ANC’s national conference last month passed a series of resolutions aimed at accelerating the pace of land reform. Among these was a decision to dissolve the trust — set up to appease Zwelithini on the eve of the 1994 elections — and establish mechanisms to transfer the land and assets under its control to the government and finally to individuals and communities living on the land.
The trust has also come under fire from the parliamentary high-level panel on the assessment of key legislation and the acceleration of fundamental change, which recommended the dissolution of the trust. It was identified as an obstacle to security of land tenure for rural people in the province in its final report last November.
The panel called for the repeal of the 1994 Ingonyama Trust Act and the transfer of its assets to the land affairs ministry, which should act as a custodian of these assets on behalf of people living on trust land.
On Wednesday, KwaZulu-Natal’s 300-odd amakhosi (chiefs), most of whom live on land administered by the trust, will meet in Durban to discuss their response to the panel’s report. The meeting, convened by the trust with the endorsement of Zwelithini, is expected to oppose the recommendations. The province’s House of Traditional Leaders and the regional houses will also attend.
The panel has already come under fire from the king in articles in the Bayede newspaper, which accused members of the panel, including former president Kgalema Motlanthe, its chairperson, of trying to destroy the monarch and the institutions of traditional leadership.
The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa has warned against the ANC trying to limit the powers of the amakhosi.
Judge Jerome Ngwenya, the chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust board, which administers the trust, confirmed that they had called the meeting at the request of amakhosi, who were concerned about the panel’s recommendations.
A second meeting would discuss the ANC’s resolutions after the first forum had concluded its work.
“We will first be dealing with the high level panel, which released its report just ahead of the ANC conference. We will then be discussing the ANC’s resolutions and how they impact on the amakhosi, the monarchy and the trust,” Ngwenya said.
The amakhosi were angry because, according to Ngwenya, the panel had consulted neither the traditional leaders nor Zwelithini. “The panel has made recommendations which are critical to us, including that the Ingonyama Trust must be abolished and that all land that it controls and therefore the king holds on behalf of his people must be given back to government and that government in turn must give title to individual people.”
He said the panel report was “superficial” and “evidently only consulted a partisan group of people and not one serious stakeholder”.
“One would have expected a panel headed by a former president to have shown his majesty the courtesy of a visit and some show of respect, to explain what their mandate was and what they were up to.”
Ngwenya said the meeting of the amakhosi was urgent. “Amakhosi are angry that they had not been consulted and have asked that this meeting be convened so they can be taken through the report, discuss it and respond to it accordingly.”
He would not be drawn on what the response would be, saying that the meeting would decide on a course of action and report to Zwelithini. The king had been briefed on the meeting and supported it. “At this stage, his majesty is not attending. He is aware of it and has already made his comments when he met the top six of the ANC.”
Ngwenya said Zwelithini and the amakhosi would have “questions that have to be asked of the high- level panel”.
He added that the Ingonyama Trust would continue with its programmes, including consolidating agreements between mining houses and traditional authorities, despite the panel’s recommendations.
“Currently we are in discussion with the ministry of minerals and we are consulting with mining houses to involve communities in mining.”
Ngwenya said the dissolution of the trust “would deprive many rural people of the protection that comes with the trust. At this stage, there is no alternative structure with the capacity to manage this communal land. In the rest of the country, the ministry runs this but they don’t have the infrastructure to do the job that the trust is currently doing.”
The panel said in its report that people who testified at its hearings “complained that they are currently more vulnerable to dispossession than they were before 1994”.
“The problem is especially acute in areas where mining is taking place in former homeland areas, and in areas administered by the Ingonyama Trust in KwaZulu-Natal. People complain that traditional leaders and officials deny their land rights [including long-standing customary rights] and assert that traditional leaders have the sole authority to sign agreements with investors in respect of communal land.”
The panel said mining deals that “enrich a select few while excluding the ordinary people whose land rights are at stake” were being concluded “only because officials collude with elites in ignoring various oversight and accountability provisions set out in law”.
“The unintended consequence of the lack of legislative protection for the land tenure of rural people is that powerful players have been able to strategically take advantage of their vulnerabilities. These actors include transnational mining companies, foreign investors, traditional leaders, traditional councils and commercial farmers, who continue to benefit from the lack of state regulation to address the structural inequalities and vulnerabilities created by colonialism and apartheid,” it said.
The panel was scathing about the trust’s apparent abuse of its revenue collection system, which was more than R96-million in the 2015-2016 financial year in leases for rural businesses.
“There is little evidence that the revenue generated by leases is used for the benefit of communities or their material wellbeing. The trust has built up very substantial reserves,” it said.
The panel report pointed to criticism of the trust by the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on rural development and land reform for a lack of transparency and its failure to use revenue for the benefit of people. It also highlighted the trust’s failure to comply with the Public Finance Management Act and the auditor general’s criticisms of it.
The panel added that there was a “pressing need” to create mechanisms for people whose rights had been violated by the trust to seek restitution.