Occupiers of land falling under the monarch’s jurisdiction have joined a court bid to stop paying rent and to secure their rights
Bongani Zikhali spits expletives in hushed tones. “Bayanya (They are bullsh*tting).”
The former policeman is adamant that he will not accede to demands by the Ingonyama Trust that he pay rent for the land on which he lives in Jozini, KwaZulu-Natal, where he was born 57 years ago.
The trust manages an expanse of about 2.8 million hectares of land under the jurisdiction of Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini.
This constitutes about 30% of the province’s land.
The trust has, since 2007, been persuading the king’s subjects to sign 40-year lease agreements and pay anything from R1 500 to R7 000 a year for residential, business and farming land.
This has resulted in dissatisfaction and unprecedented resistance among some of those who have been loyal to the province’s traditional leadership for generations.
“We want to own the land,” Zikhali said.
“Isilo (the king) is our father, and if need be that we have to take care of him, we can – but not by paying rent, as if we are foreigners in the land of our ancestors,” he told City Press on Friday.
“I am ready to face the king any day and tell him the truth.”
Other residents have obliged the demands of the Ingonyama Trust, but Zikhali has refused to pay a cent for his two stands on a hill.
This is where his own house and a house left by his parents are located.
The trust, he said, wants R3 000 from him.
Zikhali’s gripe is that neither the trust’s board members nor the king have explained the lease agreements to the community.
He said that in about 2012, the local headman called them to meet Ingonyama Trust staff and they filled out forms.
“Out of respect for traditional leadership, I filled out the forms and left. I had a problem when they started sending me letters demanding payment.”
The lease agreements require occupiers to pay annual rent, which increases by 10% every financial year.
Occupiers also need permission to build on the land, are required to record all improvements and have to submit the records to the Ingonyama Trust.
The trust is entitled to cancel the lease if an occupier fails to pay and can sell off their properties.
This week, two lobby groups – the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac) and the Rural Women’s Movement – as well as individual land occupiers, including Zikhali, filed papers in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in a bid to stop these lease agreements and revert to the Permission to Occupy system.
Residents living on traditional land have land rights and security of tenure protected under the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act of 1996.
Traditional leaders do not own land but administer communal land on behalf of government.
Casac argues that the Ingonyama Trust and its board acted unlawfully and violated the Constitution.
In its court papers, the lobby group said the trust and the board had also violated customary law.
Casac wants the Ingonyama Trust interdicted from persuading residents to enter into new lease agreements.
It also wants the court to cancel agreements that have already been signed and have the money collected from such leases refunded.
By the end of the 2016/17 financial year, just over R106.8 million was collected from residents and went into the trust’s coffers.
“The personal accounts of applicants (residents) and the records of the land leased out by the trust for residential purposes demonstrate that these violations are serious, widespread and systematic,” said Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo.
“The lease agreements impose serious burdens on the residents and occupiers of trust-held land, many of whom are impoverished and cannot afford to pay the rental demanded of them.
“Residents of trust-held land are being threatened by letters of demand for rental unlawfully claimed by the trust and the board, and are vulnerable to eviction.”
Ingonyama Trust board spokesperson Simphiwe Mxakaza did not respond to written questions to indicate whether the trust would defend the application or not.
Phuti Mabelebele, spokesperson for the department of rural development and land reform, also did not respond.
Meanwhile, Hletshweleni Nkosi, another Jozini resident and applicant in the court case, has a different reason to boycott paying her annual rent to the trust.
Nkosi claims that, as a woman, she was not allowed to lease a stand where she built a house and lived with her boyfriend.
“I signed papers, but I boycotted paying because I feared losing my house to the man if I paid and had my house registered in his name,” she said.
She added that besides the patriarchal hindrance, she wanted to live free of charge on traditional land.
July Gumede (61) paid R2 000 in rent for two years, after signing a lease agreement for his business plot, where he rents out buildings to shopowners.
A tyre business, a grocery shop and a salon operate in his building.
“I am still waiting for an explanation for why I should pay. How can you rent land where you were born?” said the grey-haired man.
“Also, what is this money we should pay being used for?”
When you dial the Ingonyama Trust’s offices in Pietermaritzburg, you listen to a persuasive advertisement while waiting for someone to answer the phone.
It lists the benefits of signing the lease agreement as an enabler to get a loan from commercial banks and having an address to register a cellphone SIM card.
Zikhali’s expletives reflect his anger and frustration at the situation.
“We are the owners of the land and the isilo is not. I am prepared to die for what I am saying,” he said.
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