/ 14 November 2023

Ingonyama Trust drops residential leases appeal

The Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) has gone to court to seek a costs order against Prince Mbonisi Zulu for filing and withdrawing an application to stop King MisuZulu kaZwelithini (above) from exercising his powers as its trustee. . Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images

The bid to have the supreme court of appeal (SCA) overturn the high court order setting aside the Ingonyama Trust Board’s (ITB) residential leases has officially been withdrawn.

The appeal — brought by the ITB’s former chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya — was set down to have been argued at the SCA on Tuesday but was withdrawn by the board led by Ngwenya’s successor, Thanduyise Mzimela.

The move is significant as it now opens the way for residents to be refunded rentals they were forced to pay for land historically occupied by their families — and for a court ordered programme of securing the right of tenure of people living on ITB administered land.

At the time the challenge to the lease programme was brought, the ITB was taking in about R90 million a year from the programme.

While the ITB repeatedly failed to respond to queries from the Mail & Guardian on the matter, both the registrar of the SCA and Legal Resources Centre, which represented Linah Nkosi and other residents who took the ITB to court in 2019, confirmed that a withdrawal notice had been issued by the board’s lawyers.

In June 2021, the Pietermaritzburg high court declared the residential leases — introduced in 2012 — unlawful and unconstitutional and ordered the ITB to pay back millions of rands it had collected from residents since its inception.

It did so in response to an application by residents, backed by the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac) and the Rural Women’s Movement, who asked the court to scrap the leases and order a return to the permission to occupy certificates that had historically secured their tenure.

But Ngwenya defied Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza’s instruction to abide by the court ruling and appealed, arguing that two of the judges who heard the matter were biased as their families had homes on ITB land.

In March, Ngwenya was removed from office by King MisuZulu ka Zwelithini after the M&G exposed that he had lost R41 million of trust money in a dubious investment through Ingonyama Holdings, which he set up in 2019.

The money has not been recovered.

The king also issued an instruction banning Ngwenya, who challenged his removal, from briefing lawyers on behalf of the ITB, which conducts the affairs of the trust, of which the monarch is the sole trustee.

The trust administers nearly three million hectares of traditionally controlled land in KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of the Zulu monarchy and is funded to the tune of R20 million a year by Didiza’s department.

A source at the ITB said the new board believed Ngwenya’s appeal was not justified and had taken the decision to withdraw on that basis.

“The board is clear that the residential leases were irregular and that the appeal should not have been lodged in the first place,” the source said. “They can now proceed with the process of regularising the ITB and the way it works.”