/ 22 November 2020

King’s land body stops staff cuts

October 09 2019 Judge Jerome Ngwenya Appeared Before The Agriculture, Land Reform And Rural Development Portfolio Committee In Parliament On Wednesday. Cape Town. Photo By David Harrison
The ITB’s term ended about six months ago and the deadline to establish a new one has passed

Wide-ranging retrenchments at the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) have been put on hold — at least until after the appointment of a new board by land reform minister Thoko Didiza in January.

The interim board appointed by Didiza in August is understood to have countermanded the decision by its chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya, to retrench staff earlier this year. It has placed the process on hold until a permanent board is appointed. 

Ngwenya, who is King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu’s nominee to the ITB, had issued staff with Section 189 notices after the department held back R22-million in funding over its failure to submit its annual report and financial statements.

Among those identified for retrenchment were the ITB’s chief executive officer, Lucas Mkhwanazi, chief financial officer Amin Mia and staff in its head office in Pietermaritzburg, and in its Ulundi satellite office.

However, the interim board, which includes advocate Linda Zama and former Durban International Convention Centre head Zethu Qunta, is understood to have halted the process, which has been put on hold until a permanent board is appointed in January.

Didiza last month appointed a forensic audit into the ITB, which administers nearly three million hectares of KwaZulu-Natal land that falls under tribal control on behalf of the monarch, following several complaints about alleged financial irregularities. 

The ITB has been at loggerheads with parliament’s land reform portfolio committee over its failure to use more than R90-million it raises annually, from lease fees and mineral rights, for the benefit of communities or the traditional authorities.

It is not clear at this stage how far the audit — which is meant to be completed by December — has progressed. 

Staff members, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, told the Mail & Guardian this week that they were relieved that the staff cuts had been shelved.

“The whole process was being handled very roughly,” said one staff member.
“We were being told to take voluntary packages, or we would be retrenched. They were rushing us to sign,”’ said the source.
“Now they have stopped. We don’t know what will happen when the new board comes in.”

Two other staff members said they had received no further notice about the job cuts.

“Nothing is going on now,” said one.
“Fortunately nobody signed or took packages, so we all still have our jobs. People are still worried about what is going to happen, but for now, we are safe.”

The ITB has also been racked by infighting between Ngwenya and senior executives. In January, Ngwenya placed Mkwanazi,  Mia and three other executives on special leave pending an investigation into allegations of their involvement in the security contract on land owned by the ITB in southern KwaZulu-Natal.  As a result, the entity failed to meet the deadline for submitting its annual report, which was completed several months late. Mkhwanazi and his fellow executives were reinstated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration in July and returned to work. They were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

A sixth executive, Thembeka Ndlovu, was placed on special leave around June last year. Ndlovu, a sister-in-law of the monarch, has not been charged with any offence but is still at home on full pay.

The high court challenge to the ITB’s lease programme by non-governmental organisations and a group of residents living on land administered by the entity is set to be argued in Pietermaritzburg next month. 

Ngwenya and ITB spokesperson Simphiwe Mxakaza did not respond to calls or emails from the M&G.

Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, had not responded to calls at the time of publication.