/ 19 August 2022

ANC integrity body wants Ingonyama Trust gone

Trust issues: Traditional leaders gather for an imbizo on proposed changes to policy on the Ingonyama Trust. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The ANC’s integrity commission has ordered the party to use its powers in government to urgently repeal the Ingonyama Trust Act and other legislation undermining the tenure rights of rural South Africans.

The body wants the governing party to act on the recommendations of a report by the  high-level pane on acceleration of transformation, headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, which the government abandoned in 2018 in the face of a backlash from late Zulu monarch Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu and traditional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal.

The trust controls nearly three-million hectares of land falling under traditional authorities on behalf of the Zulu monarchy in terms of the Act, passed on the eve of democracy to secure the participation of Zwelithini and the Inkatha Freedom Party in the 1994 elections.

The Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB),  whose chairperson Jerome Ngwenya  was Zwelithini’s nominee, administers the land on behalf of the trust. It is funded by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, under whose oversight it falls.

In September, the integrity commission called on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza “to explain the role of the Ingonyama Trust Board” and to discuss the recommendations of the Motlanthe panel, which was appointed by parliament in 2016.

The panel had recommended that the ITB be repealed or reformed to remove obstacles to tenure rights, as did a second report by a presidential advisory panel on land reform, appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018.

In its report to the ANC national executive committee (NEC) last month — seen by the Mail & Guardian this week — the integrity commission documented the meeting with Didiza and recommended the KwaZulu Ingonyama Trust Act of 1994 “should be repealed as a matter of urgency”.

The integrity commission said the NEC needed to drive this process through the government and ensure a review of legislation that was preventing people — and women in particular — from getting access to land. 

“The NEC, as the centre of all policy processes, needs to reflect on the alignment of the constitutional provisions in relation to traditional authorities and existing legislation and institutions, to ensure that the principles of a democratic South Africa are not undermined,” the commission said.

“Access to land and discrimination against women are the key issues in this regard. We believe the legislation on traditional authorities be reviewed with a view towards the supremacy of the Constitution. This is a discourse that the movement needs to have as a matter of urgency,” it added.

The commission said it had discussed the panel’s findings on the Ingonyama Trust, along with the “noticeable worrying shift in the ANC leadership towards strengthening traditional authorities and the resultant disempowerment of women and the perpetuation of patriarchy under those authorities”.

It is not clear at this stage whether the NEC discussed the recommendation and, if so, what it decided to do with regard to implementing them.

Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, referred the M&G to ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe, saying this was a matter for the party and not the ministry to comment on. Mabe did not respond to messages and calls from the M&G.

The ITB is presently being run by an interim board appointed by Didiza after its board’s term expired, while its chief executive Vela Mngwengwe, and other senior staff, have been seconded from the department because of a financial management crisis.

The appointment of a new board and a restructuring process, which was stalled by the death of Zwelithini and the delays in formalising the appointment of his successor, Misuzulu kaZwelithini, caused by legal battles over the throne by competing factions in the royal family.

Ngwenya is at loggerheads with parliament over the ITB’s fiscal management and its failure to submit a budget to the oversight committee, along with its annual performance plan for 2022-23, earlier this year. He has also declared a dispute with the auditor general over the body’s adverse findings against the ITB in its audit report for the 2021-22 financial year.

This dispute was among the factors that had delayed the submission of a budget to parliament, with the auditor general’s office confirming this week the dispute — believed to be over the transfer of R10-million to Ingonyama Holdings, the ITB’s investment agency — was still not resolved.

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza has been asked to clarify the role of the trust’s board. (Kopano Tlape)

Africa Boso, the spokesperson for the auditor general, said the 2021-22 audit had been completed and that the audit outcomes would be released in parliament, along with those of all national and provincial departments and entities, later in the year.

“The AGSA [Auditor General of South Africa] can confirm the dispute between it and the trust is being addressed through the dispute-resolution process that involves the ITB and the national treasury,” Boso said.

“While we will not get into the details of this process, we can confirm that it relates to the accounting treatment of certain transactions in financial statements.”

On Monday, Ngwenya wrote to ITB employees informing them it could no longer afford to pay its bills — or their salaries — and that it would be entering into a section 189 retrenchment process which aimed to cut the staff complement to 30.

The ITB receives just over R22‑million a year from the land reform department, but its operating costs stand at about R40-million a year, with the board drawing the shortfall from revenue it collects on behalf of the trust for mining rights and commercial leases.

Its residential lease programme, introduced in 2012 to collect levies from residents who had been living on ITB-controlled land for generations, has been declared unlawful by the high court.

In his letter to staff, Ngwenya said the financial situation had forced the board to consider a section 189 process in 2020, but that this had been placed on hold. However, the entity’s finances had worsened, with the result that the amount it was using from the trust exceeded the grant it received from the department.

The trust had already transferred R10-million to the board, while the secretariat had requested another R17-million for operating expenses.

“This kind of money is not available,” Ngwenya said.

He said the department had made it clear it would not provide further funding, while the secretariat had been unable to pay the ITB’s bills on time because of “ the financial inadequacy of the ITB”.

Ngwenya said these factors, and the fact that there were “staff members who are not gainfully employed for some time now”, meant retrenchments would be inevitable, along with an organisational review.

He said the ITB board had taken a decision to start the process immediately and would do so in consultation with staff members and their union.

This process would include a review of salaries of workers and executives, along with new roles and tasks for the re-organised staff complement of 30.

A resolution by the ITB, which M&G has seen, suggests that the process — which includes a review of revenue collection and all leases issued in the past five years — would be completed by the end of this month.

A staff member said they had received the letters on Monday and that they would be consulting the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union — which secured recognition with the ITB last year — about what action to take.

“This is a big shock,” said the staff member, who asked not to be named. “We didn’t create this situation but now we are going to lose our jobs because this organisation has been run into the ground by those at the top. It is wrong.”

Attempts to secure comment from Ngwenya had not been successful by the time of writing.