/ 25 May 2024

Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza calls meeting with Zulu king over his Ingonyama Trust Board comments

President Ramaphosa Hosts Namibian President Hage Geingob
Thoko Didiza. Photo : Gallo Images/Frennie Shivambu)

The agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza will meet King MisuZulu ka Zwelithini shortly after this week’s national and provincial elections to defuse political tension between the monarch and government over the Ingonyama Trust.

Didiza wrote to MisuZulu in the wake of the imbizo called on Thursday by the monarch and his traditional prime minister, Thulasizwe Buthelezi, at which they accused Didiza of usurping the king’s powers over the trust, requesting that they meet to “clarify” his comments.

The king is the sole trustee and current chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust Board, set up to administer the affairs of the trust, which controls nearly 3 million hectares of land falling under amakhosi on his behalf.

The king is at loggerheads with the board — appointed by Didiza — over a few issues, including the payment of the legal fees for his ongoing court battles with his uncle, Prince Mbonisi Zulu, and other members of the Zulu royal family.

Buthelezi and the monarch told the meeting of amakhosi that Didiza was removing their powers to sign permission to occupy certificates for residents of ITB land. 

The current board, appointed by Didiza as part of a process of regularising the administration and finances of the entity, came under fire at the meeting and was accused of siding with the law, rather than with the king.

In a statement, Didiza said she had written to the king “to seek a meeting to clarify some statements iSilo made during the Imbizo with amakhosi”.

The meeting is understood to be scheduled for the coming weekend.

Didiza said she remained open to engagement with the king for “any clarification” and affirmed her support for the work of the board, appointed as part of her oversight role as minister.

Didiza accused Buthelezi, the Zululand district mayor and a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) national council, of misleading the king and turning the ITB into a “political football”.

Relations between the king and national and provincial governments have worsened in recent months, partly as a result of the appointment of Buthelezi, and partly because of tension over finances.

Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube’s administration had committed to paying R20 million towards his legal bills but has withheld payment to his firm of attorneys as they had not submitted documentation to support the quantum of their claim.

The ITB has paid R8 million to the king’s previous firm of lawyers but has halted any further payments on his behalf until the amount is paid in full.

Tension came to a head last week when Buthelezi went on the offensive against Didiza outside the Pietermaritzburg high court, where a challenge by Mbonisi to the king’s authority over the ITB was being heard.

Judgment in the matter has been reserved, while the appeal against a Pretoria high court judgment setting aside the king’s appointment is to be heard in the supreme court of appeal.

Didiza called on Buthelezi to “desist from making false statements” and said that she had no “intent or legal standing to interfere with the Ingonyama Trust operations or its board”.

“The utterances of the prime ministers are misguided and cause unnecessary confusion to the amaZulu nation and South Africans at large,” Didiza said.

On Friday, the province’s cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC, Bongiwe Sithole-Moloi, placed the Zululand District under administration, quoting an investigation into alleged misconduct by Buthelezi and the illegal withdrawal of R33 million from its bank account as the reasons for doing so.

The ANC in the province has repeatedly accused Buthelezi of corruption and sexual misconduct in the IFP-run municipality, with the mayor in turn accusing the governing party of attempting to fabricate evidence against him.

In her notice to the Ulundi speaker, Sithole-Moloi said that the intervention was aimed at ensuring “sound financial management and viability”, addressing service delivery backlogs and protests and completing unfinished municipal projects.

But the municipality has since written to Sithole-Moloi telling her to withdraw the notice or face legal action.