Government appears to have cut the Ingonyama Trust Board loose, choosing not to join the ITB’s defence of a court challenge to its authority to issue leases to residents of the 2.8-million hectares of land it administers on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini.
The national department of rural development and land affairs was a co-respondent with the board in a high court application by the Rural Women’s Movement, the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution and seven trust land residents to have the lease programme scrapped.
The department, the board, the KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance and traditional affairs department and the KwaZulu-Natal house of traditional leaders had until Thursday (February 28) to file their defence to the application, which was brought in November last year.
After the high-level panel, which had been tasked with assessing key legislation, recommended that the ITB be scrapped, President Cyril Ramaphosa and the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government last year went out of their way to reassure Zwelithini that their administrations would not attempt to undermine the board’s control over land in the province.
The panel’s recommendations and heavy scrutiny applied to the board’s leadership and its financial management by Parliament sparked threats of legal action and mass mobilisation ahead of the elections by Zwelithini and the province’s chiefs.
The tensions were further heightened by Parliament’s hearings on changing the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation, which Zwelithini and traditional leaders feared may be used to target land under their control.
Thabiso Mbhense, of the Legal Resources Centre which is representing the applicants, said the LRC had been informed that the national rural development department would file an affidavit outlining its reasons for not opposing the matter. The KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance and traditional affairs department would also not oppose the application.
“This is significant,” said Mbhense. “We now know very well that we are only fighting the ITB on the matter and not the state.”
The residents are Hletshelweni Nkosi, Bongani Zikhali, Zakhele Nkwakwa, Hlupekile Mabuyakhulu, Mabongi Gumede and two men who have asked to remain anonymous because they fear losing their land. The land that falls under tribal authorities makes up 30% of KwaZulu-Natal.
In their notice of motion, they said the board unlawfully violated the Constitution by cancelling permission to occupy (PTO) certificates, which gave residents security of tenure, and replacing them with leases, which reduced them to the status of tenants on land their families had occupied for decades. They want a return to the PTO permit system and the board to pay back the rent from residents whose permits have been converted to lease agreements. The board took in R106.8-million in leases in 2016–2017.
Residents pay an annual rent of between R1 500 and R7 000 and forfeit their properties if they fail to make timeous payment to the board.
It is understood that the board has requested an extension until March 15 to file its affidavit defending the application.
Attempts to get comment from the board’s chair, Jerome Ngwenya, and the KwaZulu-Natal house of traditional leaders were unsuccessful.