/ 1 December 2021

Ingonyama Trust to get permanent board

Thoko Didiza
Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza, under whose portfolio the ITB falls, told parliament last week that she was in discussions with the board’s leadership over the “deficit budget”, which she had not allowed them to present because this was “not advisable”. 

Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza is appointing a permanent Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) about a year after she put in place the interim board to try to stabilise the troubled land entity.

Didiza has written to the board chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya, and members of the interim board, appointed in September 2020, informing them that a permanent board for the entity, responsible for administering nearly three million hectares of land in KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of the Zulu monarch, would be advertised soon.

The interim board was appointed last year after the serving board’s term of office had expired.

It was given a mandate to act until a permanent board was appointed and included Zethu Qunta, the former chief executive of Durban’s International Convention Centre, and legal expert Linda Zama. 

Under the interim board, progress has been made in stabilising the ITB, which had battled with corporate governance and had been at loggerheads with the auditor general and parliament’s land reform portfolio committee.

A new chief executive, Vela Mngwengwe, has been seconded from the land reform department along with finance officials under the interim board. As a result, the ITB has, for the first time, received an unqualified audit opinion from the auditor general.

In a letter to board members, Didiza said that she would begin advertising for eight members to serve on the permanent board.  

The process entailed that she consulted with the Zulu monarch, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala and the chairperson of the province’s House of Traditional Leaders, before making the appointments.

“This serves to inform you of my intention to advertise for nomination of members to serve on the ITB to ensure stability, good governance and accountability,” Didiza said.

Ngwenya, as chairperson, was nominated by the late monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, whose successor, King Misuzulu kaZwelithini, has not yet been officially inaugurated because of a dispute over the throne.

Last month Ngwenya told the parliamentary committee that despite his patron’s death, his nomination by the late monarch remained valid.

A source with intimate knowledge of the process, who asked not to be named, said that historically the board members were nominated by the premier, the department and the House of Traditional Leaders, but this time the public would be asked to nominate suitably skilled people in accordance with criteria set out in the adverts.

These board members would then be drawn from this pool — after consultation with the king, the premier and the others —  and were expected to start work at the beginning of February.

Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, was unable to comment at the time of writing.

The interim board and Mngwengwe have also made significant progress in resolving the long-standing dispute with six staff members who Ngwenya suspended and charged in 2016.

The case against the staff members, who have been sitting at home on full pay for five years, is understood to have stalled and then collapsed.

In a memorandum to the ITB’s staff last month, Mngwengwe said five of the staff members — Bheki Zondi, Nono Msani, Duncan Pakkies, Nompumelelo Ndlovu and Lungile Sibiya — would return to work. The sixth person had resigned

Mngwengwe said that although the five still faced charges, which had not been withdrawn, the board had looked at whether their continued suspension “can still be justified”. 

“Following deliberations, the board decided to lift the suspensions and recall the affected employees to resume their duties,” Mngwengwe said.

In a letter to Mngwengwe, the lawyer for the five staff members, Brett Purdon, said the charges against them were “without substance” and that “any attempt to reinstate the charges will be strenuously opposed”.