Tenants of the ITB, unite

Thursday.

The Durban morning has a battered but tentatively hopeful feel to it.

It’s as if the city has been taking cover for the past few days, lying low to ride out the heavy weather, and is emerging, a little stunned, from its shelter.

The sun is showing its face for the first time in nearly a week, ending, hopefully, the deep ache in the bones that comes with extended periods of wet weather these days. The wind has finally dropped, but the ocean is out for the next few days until the water clears.

It’s the 101st anniversary of the rather strangely named October Revolution in Russia — it took place in November — so maybe the tentative and hopeful thing about the morning is coming from that.

I’ve never been much of a fan of dead white men, apart from Joe Strummer from The Clash, but Vladimir Lenin is all right in my book.

Lenin and his comrades must have been stoked this time a century and a year ago. Pumped up.

The Bolsheviks had done the double — league and cup — in getting rid of the monarchy and the nationalists. No more imperial majesties and their hangers-on, no more “royalty”, no more being born to rule over others.

Fair result.

They didn’t do badly in Europe either, although the wheels did come off — something like Arsenal towards the end of the Arsène Wenger years — with the collapse of the Soviet Union and all that, but the planet would have been a lot worse had the Reds never showed up. For all their failings, if it wasn’t for the Bolsheviks we’d all be speaking German today and the National Party, South Africa’s own homegrown Nazi party, would still be in power.


Respect.

There’s nothing particularly hopeful about the contents of the more than 500 pages of high court papers I’ve been wading my way through for the past few days since the Legal Resources Centre filed them against the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) in Pietermaritzburg.

If anything, the small mountain of affidavits, lease agreements, annual reports and technical reports that were submitted to the court in the challenge to the ITB programme of forcing residents of land that used to fall under the apartheid province of KwaZulu to pay rent to them is a reminder of where our own revolution stopped short. Ran out of steam. Where the wheels came off.

The ITB, which administers three million hectares of KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini, was set up on the eve of the 1994 elections as part of a deal between the Nats and Inkatha, as the Inkatha Freedom Party was known then, to get them to participate.

Because the land is held in trust, residents can’t get title deeds. Instead they have been issued with permission to occupy (PTO) certificates, which are given in consultation with the tribal authority under which they fall, after paying a once-off fee to the authority.

In 2007 this less-than-perfect situation got worse. The ITB started cancelling PTOs and forcing residents to sign leases, which in effect turned them into tenants on the land on which their families have lived for decades.

According to the affidavits by Mabongi Gumede, Bongani Zikhali and five other residents living on trust land, they were forced into signing, but weren’t told what their rents would be, or that they would increase by 10% annually.

Gumede and company claim that the ITB doesn’t have the powers to do this legally and that it has usurped the authority of the minister of land reform and the KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance MEC in doing so. The two departments have, they say, failed in their duty to ensure their security of tenure and to hold the ITB to account.

The seven “tenants”, along with the Rural Women’s Movement and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, have asked the court to cancel the leases and reinstate their PTOs. They say they have been threatened with eviction for failing to pay rentals they cannot afford.

They also want the ITB to pay back the money it “extorted” from them and the thousands of others it has forced to sign away their security of tenure since the programme began.

The rents might start at about R700 a year, but there’s big money involved, with about 80 000 hectares of trust land currently under lease. According to their own records, the ITB took in R107-million in leases last year. It’s not clear how much of this is commercial and how much is residential, but the ITB’s revenue has shot up since it decided to introduce residential leases.

It’s also not clear where the money taken in from leases is going. The bulk of it is meant, by law, to go to the residents. According to the applicants, it doesn’t.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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