Editorial: Trust government to put politics first

Among the resolutions on land passed by the governing ANC at it 45th national conference in December 2017 was an undertaking to address obstacles to security of tenure of people living in areas under communal control.

The resolution, passed alongside those undertaking to expedite the process of land redistribution, said the ANC would “accelerate the rolling out of title deeds to black South Africans in order to guarantee their security of tenure and to provide them with instruments of financial collateral”.

Further, the ANC government would introduce legislation and programmes, which would “democratise control and administration of areas under communal land tenure”. The resolutions on communal land were significant, not least for the residents of 2.8-million hectares of KwaZulu-Natal held in trust on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu since 1994.

The ANC had formally undertaken to address the continued operation of the Ingonyama Trust, 25 years after the end of apartheid. In the National Assembly, ANC representatives of the land reform portfolio committee — which exercises oversight of the trust — have, since 2018, helped hold the entity to account over dysfunctional governance and the millions of rands generated by its controversial lease programme.

That lease programme is the subject of a legal challenge by NGOs and a group of residents of trust land, which will be heard in the Pietermaritzburg high court in March.


In 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa began discussions about Parliament’s high-level panel on assessment of key legislation, appointed by his predecessor, to assess legislative obstacles to the improvement of quality of life of South Africans. The panel recommended that the legislation enabling the existence of the trust be reviewed, or repealed, and replaced with a system of tenure for residents.

The panel report was rejected by the monarch, whose supporters threatened civil unrest and a boycott of the ANC at the polling booth in 2019 should control of the land be taken away from the trust. That backlash saw Ramaphosa meet the monarch in 2018 to reassure him that the trust was not under threat from his administration.

In September 2018, Ramaphosa appointed a presidential advisory panel on land reform to assist the work of the inter-ministerial committee tasked with accelerating the process. This panel also recommended that the trust’s enabling legislation be repealed or reviewed and the body itself be dissolved.

In December, Agriculture and Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza announced that most of the advisory panel’s recommendations had been accepted, and those about the trust would be dealt with further down the line as part of land reform generally.

On Wednesday, Cabinet began a planning session aimed at streamlining its work for the year in terms of priorities set out by the governing party’s national executive committee lekgotla earlier this month.

The lekgotla report — which outlines the priority programmes for the party and government for 2020 — identifies the continued lack of access to security of tenure on communal land as a barrier to land reform, but fails to identify it as a priority. The issue has been returned to the back burner, where it has stewed for the past quarter century.

The failure of government to accept the recommendations of the two panels — and of the governing party to identify security of tenure on communal land as a priority for the next year — are clear indications that neither is prepared to risk a further conflict with the monarch, or further electoral losses in KwaZulu-Natal, ahead of next year’s local government poll.

Political expediency has trumped principled action, once again.

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