/ 9 March 2018

Mchunu tries to defuse Zulu land row

Premier Willies Mchunu
Premier Willies Mchunu

As tensions between King Goodwill Zwelithini and Parliament rise over proposals to scrap the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu has started initiatives to calm temperatures and prevent the impasse developing into a potentially violent conflict.

Mchunu has approached the speaker of Parliament, which commissioned the report by the high-level panel headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, to facilitate a meeting between Zwelithini, traditional leaders, Parliament and the government to find a solution acceptable to all parties.

This comes in the wake of Zwelithini setting up a fund to “defend” the ITB, which administers nearly three million hectares of tribal land on his behalf. Zwelithini is the only trustee. He has also called on izinduna to raise a “regiment” to defend the ITB, which was set up on the eve of the 1994 elections as one of the conditions for the participation of Zwelithini and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

In response to the king’s actions, Parliament has come out hard against the ITB, warning that it will not allow lawmakers to be intimidated in the course of doing their work.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on land reform this week told the ITB to stop issuing leases and to explain what it is doing with the more than R90-million a year it is earning from leaseholders.

The committee ordered the ITB to show what real benefit the conversion of permission-to-occupy (PTO) certificates to leases had for people living on the land. There are concerns that people will now be forced to pay the ITB for land they would own except for the ITB’s existence.

The premier has publicly backed the king but Mchunu’s spokesperson, Thami Ngidi, said on Thursday that he wanted the parties to sit down and resolve the conflict “urgently”.

“The premier has gone through the report and sought legal advice on its recommendations to understand what it’s implications are,” Ngidi said. “The premier has also met the monarch and amakhosi in a bid to better understand their perspective. He has also initiated a process with the department of rural development with a view to bringing the parties together to find a common purpose on this matter.”

Mchunu would use a scheduled provincial summit to try to resolve the conflict and to better understand the implications of the ANC’s resolutions on land reform, adopted in December. The governing party wants the ITB scrapped and tenure given to the rural people living on ITB land.

Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the threats were unwarranted and that the report was the beginning of a process in which all stakeholders would be consulted.

He said the ITB’s public posture before the report was even put before Parliament appeared to be an “attempt to stifle debate and intimidate Parliament from carrying out its constitutional duties”.

“It would be most unfortunate if this was the trust’s intention, as it is not in the nature of the national legislature to bow to the bullying tactics of lobby groups or sectoral interests,” he said.

The leases are already the subject of several high court actions against the ITB and the traditional authority at Mnini on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

In the most recent case, lawyers for Ron Wilson are to approach the high court in Pietermaritzburg for an order to force the ITB and the traditional authority to pay him R1.5-million.

Wilson, who started Mnini Dam Watersports in 2002, was forcibly evicted by the traditional authority, despite paying the ITB R1 800 in annual lease fees last February. Wilson’s bass fishing resort has since been occupied by a bar owner who sublet from him and who allegedly took over the premises with the ITB’s complicity.

Wilson was paid R180 000 for the resort last September but went to court because the ITB had refused him arbitration over the settlement on the lease, which still had 35 years to run.

Wilson started the bass fishing venue after securing a PTO certificate from the ITB, permission from the tribal authority and the necessary go-ahead from the department of water affairs and local government. In 2010, this was converted to a lease with the ITB.

“My life was threatened and I was physically prevented from entering my businesses. The ITB gave me no protection at all as a tenant. I was forced into accepting a settlement of R180 000 and denied the right to arbitration as stipulated in the lease,” Wilson said.

“The R180 000 paid to me was only equal to one year’s turnover, or 20% of the value of my business, which still had about 35 years of lease to run.”

Wilson wants the court to order the ITB to pay him R810 000 for loss of income and fair compensation for the business itself. His claim against the tribal authority amounts to about R500 000. He is also claiming legal costs against both.

“I found myself in a situation where there was the landlord, the ITB, who I was paying, and a second landlord in the form of the tribal authority, which did exactly what it wanted without any regard to the lease. I would have been in a much better position had the lease been with the tribal authority or the people who own the land, rather than a third party which did nothing to protect me,” Wilson said.

“They made me an offer on my premises knowing I was physically locked out and unable to do business. They did nothing to intervene or offer protection as a tenant,” he said.

Edward Mpeko, who was forced out the Mnini Holiday Resort in 2008 after a dispute with the tribal authority, is suing the ITB in a separate action for R6.5-million for its role in the ruin of his business.

Mpeko lost everything when his 21-room resort, which he had run for 13 years, was looted and stripped to the foundations by locals, allegedly on instructions from the inkosi. Mpeko received no compensation from the ITB, to which he paid R8 000 a month in rental.

Another group of Mnini residents belonging to the Luthuli clan have also gone to the high court to stop the tribal authority from selling and leasing their land to developers, allegedly with the ITB’s connivance. The department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs said it has investigated claims of illegal land sales at Mnini and is conducting a follow-up forensic investigation.

ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya did not respond to calls and SMS messages.

ITB spokesperson Simphiwe Mxakaza said he was not able to comment on the legal challenges or the order by the portfolio committee to stop issuing leases.