Staff fear job losses

2018-05-08 16:00
The Pietermaritzburg Ingonyama Trust Board offices,

The Pietermaritzburg Ingonyama Trust Board offices,

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As Parliament and the auditor-general begin to act against the embattled Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), staff caught up in the stand-off say they now fear losing their jobs.

“Recent media reports and statements from MPs have created the impression amongst staff that the ITB is some kind of a mafia organisation that has to be closed down,” said a staffer whose identity cannot be disclosed as he is not allowed to speak to the media.

“Because of all the negative publicity around the ITB, most employees want out. They want to secure alternative employment to avoid being left stranded in the event of the ITB being closed down.”

The ITB, whose future hangs in the balance following the High Level Panel’s recommendation that land administered by the entity be transferred to the state, recently came under attack from Parliament’s rural development portfolio committee for the poor handling of finances under its control.

The entity, which was established in 1994 to administer about three million hectares of KwaZulu-Natal rural land, and whose sole trustee is Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, has been pocketing millions of rands in mining royalties it has been collecting since 1994. In terms of the law, the money should have been paid into the National Revenue Fund (NRF).

Both Parliament and the auditor- general now want the ITB to pay back the money.

Established as part of a deal to secure the Inkatha Freedom Party and the province’s traditional leaders’ participation in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, the ITB appears to now be losing the backing of the ANC.

“As employees our view is that a decision has already been made to close down the ITB. The ANC leaders, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, just keep quiet when MPs and all sorts of people continue attacking the ITB left, right and centre.

“Our view is that the ANC is out to get the ITB and nothing is going to stop them,” another employee said.

Signs that the board has fallen out of favour with the party became apparent in March when ANC MPs ordered the entity to halt its plans to convert Permission To Occupy (PTO) agreements between the entity and those residing on the trust’s land, to long-term leases.

“These leases would have reduced rural dwellers to tenants with no security of tenure whatsoever. This completely goes against everything currently being done by government to protect the most vulnerable of this country. A long-term lease means that the contract can be terminated at any moment and that the tenant could be kicked out at the whim of the landlord,” said ANC MP and acting chairperson of the rural development portfolio committee, Phumzile Mnguni.

The trust has seen a sharp staff turnover in recent months, with CEO Fikisiwe Madlopha having left recently under mysterious circumstances.

Five senior officials who were put on suspension in mid-2016 after allegedly losing the trust of the ITB’s top brass are still not back at work.

Mnguni said the portfolio committee has asked the ITB leadership for a report on the circumstances surrounding the suspensions.

“As a committee we have a duty to establish whether these officials are being purged for expressing certain views,” he said.

Zwelithini has warned of bloodshed should Parliament endorse the panel’s recommendations.

The trust, which currently receives over R90 million a year in income from leases, had not responded to e-mailed questions by the time of going to print.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ingonyama-trust

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