The Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) and traditional leaders are forcing women residents on land under its control to sign leases through male proxies, in effect removing their right to own land.
The unlawful practice, which is widespread throughout KwaZulu-Natal, came to light this week in an application in the high court in Pietermaritzburg by several organisations and rural residents who want the court to halt the board’s lease programme.
The chairperson of the Rural Women’s Movement, Sizani Ngubane, a veteran rural development and gender activist, said in her affidavit that the board was “undermining the security of tenure” of residents by unlawfully “extorting’’ money from them through the lease programme. The rights of women were further undermined by the fact that some amakhosi and the board demanded that the lease be signed by a man.
“I have also heard of cases where the ITB or the inkosi insists that the lease must be in the name of whatever man they find on the property, because they assume that a man must always be the household head. This creates great difficulties if the man is just a boyfriend of the woman who owns and has established the property,’’ she said.
Ngubane said the leases had the effect of placing family land or assets in the hands of a single family member.
“Where this is a man it has a direct negative impact on the tenure security of female members of the family,’’ Ngubane said.
The conversion of customary and permission-to-occupy rights into a lease in the name of a man “formalised’’ the apartheid exclusion of women from land ownership and increased their vulnerability, she said.
“The leases issued by the ITB therefore undermine, rather than enhance, women’s security of tenure.’’
The registration of rights to a single, male, family member altered the power dynamics in families and weakened the rights of other family members.
Ngubane said she had also come across a number of cases in which widows had been evicted from family homes by their sons, who had signed leases, and their wives, because of internal family disputes.
She said that section 9 of the Constitution gave women substantive equality to men and aimed to address the disparity in access to rights, including the right to land, which this equality guaranteed.
“The action of the ITB perpetuates the ideology of male dominance. Instead of realising the security of tenure of thousands of occupiers of trust-held land, the Ingonyama Trust is infringing them,” she said.
In her affidavit, Hletshelweni Nkosi (62), from Maphaya village at Jozini, who moved to the area from Ngotshe in 1974 with her family, said she and her sister and their children had moved from the family homestead to another plot given to them by the inkosi in 2005.
The women, over time, built two six-bedroom houses and outbuildings and spent R3 500 clearing a second plot, which they were given for farming. But, before they could plant, the land was given to other people by the induna, with the inkosi’s knowledge.
In 2011, residents were informed that they would have to sign leases with the ITB.
“When I tried to conclude the lease in my name, I was told that the Ingonyama Trust does not allow a woman to conclude a lease on her own and that I needed a male relative to conclude it on my behalf,’’ said Nkosi.
Despite her protests, she applied for a lease along with her then partner, Zakhile Khanyile, who had played no role in developing the homestead. She was not told how much she would have to pay.
“The first time I found out how much the rent would be was when the lease eventually arrived in the mail with the rental amounting to R1 680,’’ she said.
Nkosi, who supports her late sister’s children, said she had not paid the rent since the 40-year lease was issued in April 2011.
“I have not paid the rent because I cannot afford to pay it. The little money that comes into our household is used to take care of the children. Also, the lease is not in my name and my rights are not protected like they said they would be,” Nkosi said.
She said that when she first took the lease “I did not fully understand what was going on. Now I see how much it has weakened my rights.” She said that she had paid the once-off fee for the land to the induna as required.
“Now they want me to pay the Ingonyama Trust every year. I do not even understand where the money from the leases is going because it is not going to the community,’’ she said. ‘’I do not understand why the Ingonyama Trust is coming to our communities and requiring these things from us.’’