Jerome Ngwenya appearing before the Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Portfolio Committee in Parliament in 2019. (David Harrison/M&G)
The Msunduzi municipality has restored the electricity and water supply to the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) headquarters in Pietermaritzburg, which it disconnected last week over R8-million in unpaid rates on land under its control.
The ITB went to the high court in Pietermaritzburg on Friday and secured an interim order compelling the city to reconnect its services — for people living in four traditional authorities that fall within the municipality — within 12 hours.
The ITB administers about three million hectares of land in KwaZulu-Natal, which falls under traditional authorities, on behalf of the Zulu monarch.
It carries out the day to day work of the Ingonyama Trust, set up on the eve of the 1994 elections to secure the participation of the then king Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, and Inkatha, later to become the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
Last week the municipality started a high profile disconnection campaign targeting government departments, state entities and businesses that are in arrears for rates and municipal service charges, cutting them off and posting pictures on social media in a name and shame campaign.
It targeted the ITB for the R8-million in rates arrears from the farm Zwartkop 4669 — which falls under Msunduzi and the neighbouring Umngeni municipality — for municipal services provided to people living on the land.
ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya said they had gone to court over the disconnection, carried out on 5 September by officials and security personnel who had “stormed” its offices in Trelawney Road after arriving unannounced.
Ngwenya said in terms of the disconnection notice, presented on the day of the cut-off, the rates were owed on the 24 000ha farm.
The area cuts across four traditional authorities and includes Taylor’s Halt, Mpumuza, Esigodini, Henley Dam, eMafakatini, and has a large number of indigent residents who are exempt from paying municipal rates.
Ngwenya said the ITB had approached the court because the disconnection was unfair, given that the land also had clinics, police stations and community halls on it and had prevented the ITB from doing its work
The court ruled in the ITB’s favour, further ordering it could bring in private contractors to restore the supply at council cost if Msunduzi failed to meet the deadline or implement the order.
The matter will be heard again on 24 November, when the court will determine whether a permanent order can be granted.
The court also interdicted the municipality from further disconnecting or restricting any of the ITB’s services pending the resolution of the dispute between the board and Msunduzi and Umgeni municipalities over who is responsible for the services used on the farm, which falls under both councils.
“Ingonyama Trust is not owing the municipality any debt. It was not served with any notice prior to the disconnection. The claim that it is indebted to the municipality for R8-million is misleading and false,” Ngwenya said this week.
“Ingonyama Trust is the underlying land owner but all the houses and developments on that farm belong to various families, churches, institutions and legal entities. Both Umngeni municipality and Msunduzi municipality have full details of each family which owns a homestead on that farm as they supply municipal services to each. Ingonyama Trust does not consume any municipal services on this farm.”
Ngwenya said the dispute centred on who was responsible for the rates on the farm, how they were calculated, how the properties were valued and how the amount being levied was arrived at.
“The Msunduzi municipality has not considered it prudent to meet all the affected parties and seek a resolution of the matter,” Ngwenya said.
Employees at the ITB, who asked not to be named, said the power and water supply were restored on Friday night.
The issue of who is responsible for rates on ITB land is a thorny one and has ended up before the courts over disputes between the land entity, which falls under the land reform ministry, and the eThekwini metro council.
eThekwini intends to levy a standard service charge of R200 a household to people in the metro who live on ITB land, a proposal that is likely to cause a backlash from traditional leaders and residents.
The ITB is undergoing mass retrenchments, which are set to cut its staff complement to less than 30 workers because of funding contractions.
The body receives about R20-million a year from the land reform department, but its operating costs are more than twice that.
It raises revenue from commercial leases and mining rights, while a controversial residential lease programme, introduced in 2012, has been declared unlawful by the courts.
The matter is under appeal.
Msunduzi spokesperson Ntobeko Mkhize confirmed that the court order had been granted and that the ITB’s services had been reconnected.
However, the city would continue with its efforts to recover the R8 million from the ITB.
“This is not the final order and the municipality is preparing to respond accordingly. While an entity may have a dispute or query on an account it does not mean that payment should not be made. The municipality is still expecting all debtors to pay and ensure that their accounts are up to date,” Mkhize said.
“The instructions by the court do not stop the municipality from going back and recovering the outstanding debt,” she said.