Claims based on flawed premises

2014-07-29 00:00

THE proposed claim on large tracts of land in this province by the Ingonyama Trust is ill-conceived (“What does the king want?”,The Witness, July 14). It is likely to achieve little while costing money and sowing divisions we can ill-afford.

Firstly, the current cut-off date for claims is 1913, so presumably the trust expects the Constitution to be changed to accommodate it.

It is one thing to lodge claims for the post-1913 period — although, despite the existence of a great deal of documentary records for that period, most of the claims lodged thus far have been badly handled because of incompetence and corruption by those handling them.

It is quite another matter to claim for land supposedly lost in the 19th century, especially the first half of the period when evidence on the ground was thin.

I wonder if the trust is aware of the large body of high-quality published academic work, especially by historians at the former University of Natal, including on oral history of the region.

I would suggest that the trust starts by going through that material thoroughly before it tackles the archives.

All King Shaka succeeded in doing during his relatively brief reign was driving most of the inhabitants south of the uThukela River off their land, which could hardly be described as colonisation.

Those who returned after Shaka’s death had, like the amaBaca, not been subjects of the kingdom. The administration of indigenous inhabitants by Theophilus Shepstone saw the creation of tribes and new chiefs by the British for purposes of indirect rule.

In the north, the history and social structure of the amaThonga have been well-documented by the missionary Junod, and by anthropologists, including the late Dr David Webster.

Northern KZN was not part of the Zulu kingdom when it was conquered by the British and was only incorporated into the colony in the late 19th century.

The lodgement of land claims for the 19th century by contemporary amakhosi rests on faulty premises, since current notions of tribes, chieftaincy and land ownership are products of colonialism and apartheid, and cannot be used as a basis for determining pre-colonial land ownership.

It is bad enough that land claimants who were removed from what were designated “black spots” in this province have not had their freehold rights returned to them, without giving even more land, and powers over it, to traditional leaders, some of whom continue to abuse the rights of their subjects.

In examples he provides, Judge Jerome Ngwenya appears to conflate custom and law. Even customary law in this province is a product of colonialism since it was codified by the British (what the British thought was good for the Zulu, as one legal academic put it).

The lack of transparency around the trust’s financial dealings was a source of concern to the parliamentary committee when the trust presented its 2012/13 report last year, and clarity on a number of issues was called for.

One of the questions raised concerned what a “research project” was about. The trust, a government body, had a surplus of R11 million during that financial year, and Treasury had apparently not been advised about it.

Taxpayers must be told whether the “archival research” to which Ngwenya refers is being financed by them and, if so, who exactly is doing the research and for whose benefit.

• Mary de Haas is the co-ordinator of the Natal Monitor violence monitoring project.

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