Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza will intervene at Umnini on the upper KwaZulu-Natal South Coast over government’s failure to stop the illegal sale of communal land to property speculators by the local chief and izinduna.
This comes after members of the Umnini Trust, representing amaThuli (Luthuli) who have held title to the 12km stretch of coastline since 1858, threatened Didiza with court action over the failure of national and provincial governments to implement the recommendations of a 2015 forensic investigation into the illegal land sales.
The Umnini Trust, represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), last year issued the local inkosi, Phathisizwe Luthuli, with notice of high court action over the sale of plots. They also issued a notice of summons to the Ingonyama Trust Board over its issuing of leases to residents and to outside property agents who have bought land. The 4 000 hectares of land along the coast at Umgababa on the southern border of the Durban Metro falls under the control of the Ingonyama Trust, even though it was never part of KwaZulu. The Luthuli clan was given title to the land by the British Crown after agreeing to move from the Bluff area in Durban so that the harbour could be built.
Their land is in demand for upmarket holiday homes, with plots being sold off to land speculators against the wishes of families who have lived and farmed there.
The eThekwini municipality has invested heavily in upgrading the Umgababa beachfront area, the only beach on the South Coast that black people could visit under apartheid.
On Wednesday, Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for Didiza, confirmed receipt of the letter from the Umnini Trust. He said the minister would appoint a team to “assess” the situation. She would then visit the area and consult the various parties to try to resolve the crisis.
He added that Didiza had last month intervened in a similar dispute at Mtwalume, further down the South Coast, with a resolution expected within three months.
The same kind of approach would be used at Umnini, he said.
In a letter to Didiza, Umnini Trust member and former induna Lifana Luthuli said they had raised complaints about the unlawful sale of their land by the inkosi and izinduna with the provincial co-operative governance department and the national ministry of land reform.
The co-operative governance department had appointed a consultant, Ingqwele, to investigate the claims of illegal sales, but had failed to act on its recommendations since May 2015, when then MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube placed a moratorium on the sale of sites in the area.
“By that stage, people had already been killed in disputes over land and many poor people, particularly women, had been dispossessed of their fields and grazing land. Literally hundreds of new sites were allocated in the 18 months after the MEC announced the moratorium on further land allocation in Umnini,” he said in the letter.
“The MEC has not taken decisive action to stop the illegal allocation of our land despite being in possession of the Ingqwele report and recommendations. That was in May 2015. It is now 2019 and the illegal land sales have, if anything, sped up,” Luthuli said.
He said Didiza’s predecessors had failed to act on the illegal land sales despite the Umnini Trust members having provided officials with evidence as far back as 2016. The trust expected Didiza and the new co-operative governance MEC, Sipho Hlomuka, to “use their powers” and intervene. He asked that the bank accounts of all those identified by the Ingqwele report be frozen until all the money generated by illegal land sales had been accounted for.
KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance spokesperson Lennox Mabaso confirmed the investigation into the alleged illegal sales. He undertook to provide detail as to what action was being taken regarding its findings, but had not done so at the time of publication.
He said the dispute at Umnini was a “complex” one fuelled by a split in the Luthuli clan.