‘History lesson’ for Concourt

2013-02-13 00:00

THE Ingonyama Trust, which manages tribal land on behalf of communities in KwaZulu-Natal, is the equivalent of the British monarchy, which is exempt from paying property rates.

This was one of the “painful” points made by lawyers representing the trust in the Constitutional Court yesterday.

The Ingonyama Trust is headed by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and has eight other trustees.

Advocate Alastair Dickson, representing the trust, argued that land held by it is state land held in trust for certain inhabitants and that it is therefore exempt from property rates.

Dickson’s argument refers to a section of the Rating of State Property Act, which exempts land held in trust for certain communities from municipal rates.

If Dickson’s argument is wrong, and the court decides in favour of the eThekwini Municipality, the trust may be forced to cough up millions of rands in unpaid rates for the period between May 1996 and July 2005, when the Municipal Property Rates Act came into effect.

The Municipal Property Rates Act replaced the Rating of State Property Act and holds the trust liable for rates levied on its land.

Apologising for a “painful” history lesson, Dickson pointed out that originally the land was called “crown land” and administered on behalf of local communities.

Dickson said Ingonyama was the equivalent of the British monarch and that as such the land, under various regimes and laws, had always remained state land.

He pointed out that three current pieces of legislation defined state land as including that which was held in trust, that the Ingonyama Trust reported to Parliament and that it submitted its annual statements to the Auditor-General.

Dickson argued that the case was also moot because the unpaid rates “were water under the bridge”.

He said steps taken to evaluate properties and determine rates were an annual process and that it would be “impossible” for anyone to make these evaluations “10 years later”.

Douglas Shaw SC, one of the longest-practising advocates in South Africa, argued that the case involved “taking the property out of the hands of the state and putting it into the hands of a person who is likely to consider the interests of the people living in those areas”.

Shaw argued that the wording of the legislation that governed the trust made it clear that the property had been transferred, that it was vested in the Ingonyama Trust and administered on behalf of the inhabitants.

Shaw said the pieces of legislation that defined trust land as being state land were irrelevant, as he could produce as many pieces of legislation that did not mention trust land in definitions.

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