/ 8 March 2019

Changes afoot at KZN land board

The ITB administers 2.8-million hectares of land on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini
The ITB administers 2.8-million hectares of land on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini (Delwyn Verasamy)

The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government wants to overhaul the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), which includes members who have been in office for 15 years. The aim is to improve efficiency and better distribute the R90-million a year it earns in leases to traditional authorities.

The province has appointed an interministerial committee, consisting of the co-operative governance, human settlements and economic development MECs, to meet
the board and King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The ITB administers 2.8-million hectares of land on behalf of the monarch, its sole trustee, who nominates the chairperson of the nine-member board. The other eight members are appointed by the minister of rural development and land reform. The current chair is Jerome Ngwenya.

The provincial Cabinet apparently received a memorandum, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, from the provincial co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube.

Three sources with access to the Cabinet confirmed the appointment of the committee, which has been discreetly consulting the king.

“The matter has been on the Cabinet agenda for about three months after a two-year process,’’ said one source, who is not authorised to speak to the media. “After the Cogta memo a report was done by the premier’s office suggesting that the interministerial committee be set up to engage the monarch and the ITB leadership. That process is underway.”

The ITB is at the centre of a high court challenge by the Legal Resources Centre on behalf of residents of trust land and two nongovernmental organisations, who want the lease programme, introduced in 2005, halted, arguing it prejudices the tenure rights of residents, some of whom have lived there for decades.

The board has also come under fire from Parliament’s portfolio committee on land reform over the lucrative lease programme, and the failure to release revenue from mining rights to the National Revenue Fund.

The co-operative governance memo questions whether challenges to development were caused by the existence of the trust or “whether it is the policies and approach of these institutions (the trust and the board) that is posing the problem”.

The memo suggests “engagements with his majesty” and approaching the national ministry about the board’s composition to improve the alignment between the trust, its board and the province. It recommends a meeting with the king and the trust to discuss concerns and “reach agreement on a new approach”.

Thami Ngidi, spokesperson for Premier Willies Mchunu, declined to comment. Lennox Mabaso, spokesperson for Dube-Ncube did not respond to calls, emails and SMSes.

Preferential treatment at ITB

Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) chair Jerome Ngwenya owes the entity more than R280 000 in unpaid lease fees.

Ngwenya’s company, Zwelibanzi Utilities, has leased land at Adams Mission, south of Durban, from the board since 2015. Zwelibanzi runs the Adams Mission Service Station, sharing a shopping centre with a liquor store, a hardware shop and other small businesses.

The amount includes unpaid rental of R64 876.32 for the 2017-2018 financial year.

The lease was converted into a long-term agreement in August 2016 without the rental arrears having been settled, a violation of the board’s policies.

According to the board’s annual report, Ngwenya is also a shareholder of Ketshe Investments CC and Zululand Anthracite Colliery. Both companies have been granted leases by the board.

The report states the ITB’s former chief executive officer, Fikisiwe Madlopha, had also been given a lease for her company, Mkhathi Manufacturing and Distributors CC, in 2009.

Madlopha, who now acts as a consultant for the board, owes the entity R13 000 in rentals.

A source in the ITB said despite Ngwenya’s failure to honour an agreement to settle his arrears by December 2016, the lease conversion went ahead.

The board’s records show that it took legal action against 13 other leaseholders during the same financial year, but not against Ngwenya.

Two South Coast resort owners, whose properties were confiscated by the board and leases cancelled after their premises at Mnini were vandalised and occupied by local residents, have taken the ITB to the high court over loss of income.

Ngwenya did not respond to repeated requests for comment.