/ 15 September 2023

Buthelezi made the Ingonyama Trust, but lost influence over it in the end

Safrica Culture Tradition Zulu
Royalty: Mangosuthu Buthelezi (right) confers with the now late King Goodwill Zwelithini. (RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi goes to his grave safe in the knowledge that the Ingonyama Trust, which he created to retain control of nearly three million hectares of KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of the Zulu monarchy, remains intact.

Buthelezi was responsible for the legislation enabling the trust in 1994 and has been its most strident defender since, threatening an uprising by amakhosi and amabutho (regiments) in 2019 in response to recommendations by a presidential panel that it be scrapped.

But a dispute with King MisuZulu ka Zwelithini, its sole trustee, over the monarch’s removal of Jerome Ngwenya as chair of the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), saw Buthelezi lose influence — and control — over its future in the months before his death.

Days after he died, Buthelezi’s daughter Phumzile told mourners at the family home at KaPhindangene, near Ulundi, that her father had died from a broken heart over his relationship with MisuZulu.

Phumzile said her father had told her of his hurt, and that the tensions with MisuZulu, who had called him a “bloody shit” during a closed meeting in March, called to discuss the trust.

“In the main, what killed my father is what is happening in the royal family,” she said. 

The relationship between the two began to deteriorate in March — after Ngwenya was fired — despite Buthelezi having supported the king in his battle with his half-brother, Simakade, and other pretenders to the throne. The king’s intervention in the trust is the first that has been made by a monarch since the Ingonyama Trust Act was promulgated, a few days before the 1994 elections, by Buthelezi, then the KwaZulu chief minister.

The Act created the trust, which would control nearly three million hectares of the KwaZulu homeland on behalf of the Zulu monarchy, which, like Buthelezi, had threatened to boycott the first democratic elections over the failure to meet their demands for self-determination.

Buthelezi and the then king wanted a federal South Africa, with KwaZulu being given autonomy and constitutional protection being guaranteed for the monarchy, and had walked out of negotiations — and the poll.

The Act was agreed to as part of the process of getting them back to the table and was signed into law by FW de Klerk, the last National Party president, on 25 April 1994.

This was two days before the elections and a major concession to both the IFP and the then king, Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, that helped get them to participate in the polls.

Ballot papers had already been printed without the IFP on them and stickers bearing Buthelezi’s face and the party logo had to be added before voting took place on 27 April.

Since then, the predominantly rural, traditionally controlled land falling under the trust has been administered by the ITB, set up in 1997 to act on its behalf. The king is the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust, and appoints the ITB chairperson to act on his behalf. 

The rest of the board is appointed by the minister of agriculture, who funds the board to the tune of just over R20 million a year, in conjunction with the KwaZulu-Natal premier, the king, the house of traditional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal and the provincial cooperative governance and traditional affairs department.

The trust raises revenue from industrial, commercial and agricultural tenants, as well as from mining companies, with a percentage of the income meant to be allocated to traditional authorities for the benefit of the people living on the land.

In 2012, the ITB introduced residential leases for people whose families had been living on the land for generations, a move that was challenged in court in 2018 by several NGOs and a group of residents of ITB land.

They won their case — and an order for a refund — but Ngwenya appealed and took the matter to the supreme court of appeal, which is expected to hand down a ruling on the application for leave soon.

While the ITB’s books are open to public scrutiny by the auditor general, those of the trust have not been audited, mainly due to the refusal of Ngwenya, who was appointed in 2000, to allow this to happen.

Until his removal by the king in March, Ngwenya had insisted that the trust had no legal obligation to account to parliament for its finances and had only submitted financial statements for the ITB.

In December 2018, parliament’s High Level Panel, headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, recommended that the ITB and the trust be “reformed or repealed” to remove impediments to security of tenure of people living under its control.

The report sparked a ferocious response from Buthelezi and Zwelithini, who threatened to mobilise amakhosi and their regiments against any attempt to tamper with the trust or board.

The KwaZulu-Natal government also rejected the implementation of the Motlanthe report, with then premier Willies Mchunu calling on the president to stand down.

He did.

But Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza began a programme of reforming the ITB, seconding a new chief executive, Vela Mngwengwe, from her department and appointing an interim board. The process was halted by the death of Zwelithini in March 2021 but began again after consultations last year with the new king.

In March, following revelations by the Mail & Guardian that Ngwenya had lost R41 million in trust money through a dubious investment, MisuZulu intervened and ordered him to account for the money.

In a statement at the time, the king said he had done so “because of negative news reports relating to financial management in the organisation” and that he would meet with the board to discuss the matter.

King MisuZulu ka Zwelithini succeeded Goodwill. Buthelezi defended MisuZulu’s appointment when pretenders to the throne challenged the new king. (RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images)

“I consider it appropriate that as an incoming incumbent on the throne, it is important that I familiarise myself with the operational workings of the board, the trust and the entire traditional leadership of the people,” the king said.

He said he had called for “conscience leadership” and “social accountability” on the part of all leaders, traditional leaders and public servants.

“I implore everyone, at whatever level they may be serving, to religiously follow the dictates of practices and principles of conscience leadership,” he said.

MisuZulu fired Ngwenya and eventually replaced him with one of his own confidantes, Inkosi Thanduyise Mzimela.

Buthelezi refused to accept the decision, saying he was “unaware” of it and describing the removal of Ngwenya as a “rumour”.

After a meeting the king in April Buthelezi said MisuZulu had withdrawn Mzimela’s appointment and that Ngwenya “remains chairperson of the board.”

“This will be the case until further announcement, following discussions which his majesty has requested between the king, the chairperson and myself,” Buthelezi said.

His intervention failed, as did threats to withdraw an affidavit he had made out in support of the king in the high court challenge to his appointment next month.

Buthelezi also convened an imbizo of amakhosi to challenge the decision, but the appointment of Mzimela was not rescinded.

A new board was appointed by Didiza in May and has held several meetings, met stakeholders and has begun with the process of clearing a backlog of applications for commercial leases.

It has also begun discussions about possibly withdrawing Ngwenya’s appeal, which he lodged against the wishes of Didiza.

The IFP had challenged the narrative that the relationship between Buthelezi and the monarch had broken down over the trust.

In a letter to the M&G in July, IFP national chairperson Blessed Gwala said Buthelezi remained on good terms with the monarch.

“This claim is rather odd at best, as both his majesty King MisuZulu ka Zwelithini and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi have, on numerous occasions, indicated that there is no rift between them,” Gwala wrote. 

He said Buthelezi “never intervened on Ngwenya’s behalf.”

“He intervened on behalf of the amaZulu nation, to ensure that those who want to do away with the Ingonyama Trust are exposed,” Gwala said. “It was Buthelezi’s wish to see a smooth transition from the former chairperson to the current dispensation.

“It is only natural that the author of the Ingonyama Trust would want to ensure the future prosperity of the trust.”

Gwala said Buthelezi had ensured that MisuZulu became king.

“If it wasn’t for Prince Buthelezi, King MisuZulu kaZwelithini would not have ascended to the throne. It is the personal sacrifices of Prince Buthelezi that ensured the smooth transition from the late monarch to the current monarch,” he said. 

“That is a fact.”