Land: Who benefits from Ingonyama Trust?

2018-03-04 05:58
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi

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Amid threats of violence, a political storm is brewing following an announcement by government of its intention to amend or do away with the Ingonyama Trust Act.

Denials by the FW de Klerk Foundation and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi that the legislation was passed secretly are disingenuous. The matter had not been canvassed with the Nationalist Party's main Convention for a Democratic SA (Codesa) negotiator, the ANC. The context was one in which the IFP, in partnership with ultraconservative groups, was making unrealistic demands about the devolution of powers to regions. With unprecedented levels of violence and the IFP refusing the participate in the elections of April 27 1994 until the 11th hour, there were fears of a civil war in the region.

Furthermore, since 1992, there had been reports that the then government was secretly planning to transfer large areas of land to homeland governments, despite agreements reached at Codesa. Legislation passed in 1993 had given then president De Klerk what lawyers described as “extraordinary powers” to bypass Parliament in matters pertaining to the self-governing homelands.

The recent proposals are made in the interests of promoting the land rights of rural residents, so it is not clear why they should pose a threat, save that board members and staff benefit financially from the trust’s income. The great respect and prestige enjoyed by King Goodwill Zwelithini has nothing to do with the existence of the trust, which is widely resented by his subjects. The act itself appears to be unconstitutional as it discriminates against black people living in KwaZulu-Natal. There is also no good reason for only one of the kings in South Africa to be the sole trustee of a land trust.

Historically, this land was not “owned” in the modern sense by traditional leaders or kings because relationships to land were different in the precolonial era. The trust’s claim to nominal ownership of land through Zulu customary law is flawed.

The trust has, with impunity, breached the provisions of its governing act, which stipulates that it must be administered for the benefit, material welfare and wellbeing of the areas it controls. In 1991, rural residents in the far north of the province discovered that the trust had granted a lease to a local traditional leader to operate a private game reserve in partnership with outside business interests. To that end, he fenced the area off and evicted residents from their ancestral homes, and arranged for local police to arrest them if they returned. All appeals to the trust failed and it was only through concerted opposition by the community and various court actions – including an interdict against the chief – that residents eventually won the right to remain in their homes. The area, like some of the others falling under the trust, had never been part of the historic Zulu kingdom.

In 2008, the provincial government and a traditional leader reportedly entered into a memorandum of understanding with a Dubai-based investor for a massive tourism development in the eMacambini area, near Mandeni. The deal fell through, so no lease was issued by the trust, but it did lease the land to Tongaat Hulett without consulting affected residents, including those who had been given the land when they were removed from Mangete in the 1970s. As usual, the consultation was with the local traditional leader who controlled the community trust. This same leader, notorious for terrorising his own subjects and driving them off their land while orchestrating illegal land invasions and general mayhem in nearby Mangete, was subsequently appointed to the board of the trust.

Commonage land, especially in peri-urban trust areas, is being allocated to outsiders for building purposes, decreasing the land available to long-established residents. The rights of these residents are protected by the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act. Now the trust is trying to persuade residents on traditional land to sign leases, which would involve paying rent for land they already have rights to. If they default, they could be evicted.

The trust has claimed mining royalties as revenue, compounding problems experienced by communities opposing mining because of the social and environmental damage it does. In the 2016/17 period, the trust board signed a long-term lease with Richards Bay Minerals to mine 10 000 hectares in the Mthunzini area, boasting about it empowering communities. Locals feel otherwise – they complain of polluted water, cracked houses and health problems.

Despite the excessive cost to taxpayers of rural government, with its top-down provincial, municipal and traditional structures, there is little in the way of true development because consultation and input from residents is generally lacking. The trust is part of this broader problem and it serves no purpose whatsoever in alleviating the plight of the poorest of the poor.

Any talk of war, regardless of where it emanates from, is to be condemned. Hopefully, sanity will prevail and the trust will enter into talks with government about the way forward.

- De Haas is an activist in KwaZulu-Natal

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