/ 29 January 2020

ANC and the state step back from taking action against Zulu king’s land trust

(Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The government — and the ANC — appear to have abandoned plans to scrap or reform the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), which controls nearly three-million hectares of rural KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini, to accelerate land reform.

Not only has the Cabinet rejected recommendations by a second presidential advisory panel that the trust be reformed or done away with, but the governing party’s lekgotla last week did not include tenure reform on communal land among its land reform priorities for 2020.

The report of the national executive committee lekgotla, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, has been under discussion by the Cabinet at a second lekgotla, which began today. This meeting will identify and agree on steps to be taken by government departments to implement the lekgotla recommendations during the coming year.

The report notes that the “security of tenure for people living in communal areas, including the rights of women to own, inherit and use the land, has not been addressed” and identifies this as a “challenge to land reform”. 

It goes on to say that the rights of women to use, inherit and own land “must be emphasized on the discussion on security of tenure,” but does not list the issue among the “programmatic priorities on land reform” for 2020.

Committee rejects recommendations

In December, the interministerial committee on land reform chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza rejected some of the recommendations of the presidential advisory panel on land reform, which was appointed in President Cyril Ramaphosa in September 2018.

The panel, headed by Dr Vuyo Mahlati, recommended that the Ingonyama Trust Act be either repealed or reviewed and that the trust board be disbanded or have its powers devolved to traditional councils at local level. The panel also urged that a Protection of Informal Land Rights Bill be drafted, to safeguard informal and customary land rights.

“Government should act immediately and decisively to facilitate equitable access to land,” the report said.

Also in December, Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza said that the recommendations for a review of the Ingonyama Trust Board or the legislation governing it fell under the “broad scope of tenure reform” on which no policy had been developed. 

She said, however, that the issue of security of tenure on land under the trust was “urgent” and “must be addressed.”

An earlier report, published in 2018 by a high-level panel headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, made similar recommendations, sparking a backlash from the monarch and traditional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal.

Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, said this week that the trust “would not be isolated”.

“The ITB will be dealt with as part of the broader package of issues which need to be addressed when dealing with the whole issue of land reform,” Ngcobo said.

Ngcobo said the interministerial committee chaired by the deputy president would identify priority areas to be attended to by each of the government departments involved to accelerate the pace of land being released for redistribution.

Legal challenge

Next month, a legal challenge to the trust’s residential lease programme by the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac), the Rural Women’s Movement and a group of residents of trust land will be heard by a full bench of the high court in Pietermaritzburg.

The applicants want the court to halt the trust’s programme to convert permission-to-occupy certificates into residential leases, which they claim is being conducted against their will. They told the court in papers that residents are now being forced to pay from R1 500 upwards in rent for land their families had occupied for generations and are vulnerable to eviction should they default on payments on the 40-year leases. 

In October, Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee instructed the trust to provide it with breakdown of how the lease revenue had been used for the past five years and detail of what part of this had been allocated to traditional communities and authorities. In 2007, when the lease programme began, the trust took in R8.49-million from 376 leases. Last year, it took in more than R118-million.  

Casac secretary Lawson Naidoo said this week it appeared that the government had largely disregarded the recommendations of both the advisory panels it had appointed when it came to issues concerning land. “On a range of issues, including the new proposed amendments to section 25 [of the Constitution], government has, by and large, been disregarding the recommendations of both the task team and the Motlanthe panel,” he said. “One would have assumed that the president would have engaged with  their recommendations to a far greater extent than seems to be the case.”