All the king’s horses, and all the king’s land

2014-08-27 13:45

When you take a drive through rural KwaZulu-Natal, particularly Zululand, the economic realities of how apartheid really worked hit you like a slap in the face.

What were the historically white towns – Eshowe, Melmoth, Vryheid and Pongola – occupied the choice farming land along the region’s main river sources and straddled its best roads, guaranteeing easy access to markets.

Black Zululand was the vast expanse of generally unfarmable land throughout the district and around the black towns of Ulundi and Nongoma, short on water but oversupplied with red sand and thorn trees.

Two decades have passed since the National Party was unseated, but little of this ownership pattern appears to have changed.

The region’s economic spine is still beyond the reach of the majority of its people, with more than 180 land claims in the area remaining unsettled more than 15 years after the restitution process closed in 1998.

The problems of Zululand’s rural communities don’t end there. They do not have security of tenure over the land they live on, as it is administered by the Ingonyama Trust on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The trust was set up in terms of a deal between the Nats and the Inkatha Freedom Party on the eve of the 1994 elections and was formalised under the new dispensation.

As a result, rural people don’t own the land they live on, and there are no indications that either the government or the monarch want this to change.

To the contrary, the new land restitution process in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, seems set to see the control of the monarch and the traditional leaders who act on his behalf at community level over land increasing rather than decreasing.

President Jacob Zuma kicked off this process in February with his call to the House of Traditional Leaders to register claims. As a result, Zwelithini is laying claim to KwaZulu-Natal and beyond with the support of amaKhosi, with others following suit.

These claims – the Zulu monarch’s is being funded by the state via the trust – are putting the institutions of traditional leadership directly in conflict with the communities whose Communal Property Associations have laid existing claims and are lining up new ones in terms of the second window.

All of this while mining houses prepare to do more business with the amaKhosi and the trust – who have already given them access to several communities without their consent – rather than Communal Property Associations.

What should have been a process to help rural people secure land rights is rapidly turning into a cynical scramble for control over the region’s mineral resources.

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