The high court in Pietermaritzburg has declared the Ingonyama Trust Board’s (ITB’s) residential lease programme unlawful and has ordered it to pay back millions of rands it has collected from residents since 2012.
The court has also given Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza, under whose department the ITB falls, three months to rectify the situation, through which thousands of residents on ITB land in rural KwaZulu-Natal have been forced to pay leases.
She must report back to the court on measures taken to do so at the end of that period. Didiza had been cited as a co-respondent in the case, brought by the Rural Women’s Movement and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, along with a number of residents living on ITB land.
The ITB administers around three million hectares of KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of the Zulu monarch through legislation passed on the eve of the 1994 elections to secure the participation of the then monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, representing the Zulu people, and the Inkatha Freedom Party, then known as Inkatha, in the first democratic elections.
In about 2012 the ITB chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya, initiated the residential lease programme to replace the permission to occupy (PTO) certificates that residents had used. Residents were expected to pay annual lease fees of R800 upwards, with the ITB acting against those who failed to make the payments.
In 2018 the court challenge against the lease programme was brought by the Legal Resources Centre, acting on behalf of the applicants, who argued that the programme was unlawful. They also asked the court to impose a timetable for rectifying the situation and for an order forcing the ITB to return the funds it has collected unlawfully.
The judgment is a huge blow to the ITB, which collected about R90-million in lease fees in the 2018-19 financial year. The entity has been at loggerheads with parliament — and the auditor general — over a series of unfavourable annual audit outcomes, with Ngwenya refusing to account for revenue collected from leases and mining rights.
It is not yet clear whether the ITB will appeal the judgment.
Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ncgobo, said they were waiting to see the judgment.