Court bid to stop Zulu king charging his subjects rent

King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: Jabulani Langa
King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: Jabulani Langa

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has been served with court papers in a bid to compel him to stop forcing occupiers of land that falls under his Ingonyama Trust to pay rent.

King Zwelithini is the sole trustee of Ingonyama Trust in KwaZulu-Natal, which has jurisdiction over 30% or 2.8 million hectares of the province’s land.

According to court papers filed by the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), Rural Women’s Movement and individual land occupiers in the trust-held land, the trust and its board began cancelling permission-to-occupy agreements in 2007 and forcing residents to enter into 40-year lease agreements instead.

These leases cost an occupier between R1500 and R7000 every year, depending on the size of the plot.

In the papers served on King Zwelithini on Wednesday, Casac argues that the Ingonyama Trust and its board acted unlawfully and violated the Constitution. Casac also contends that land rights and security of tenure for residents living on tribal land are protected under the Interim Protection of Land Rights Act 31 of 1996. Traditional leaders do not own the land under their jurisdiction, but manage it on behalf of national government.

Casac executive secretary, Lawson Naidoo, said in his founding affidavit that the trust and its board had also violated customary law.

“Since 2007, the trust and board has been undermining the security of tenure of residents and occupiers of trust-held land in KwaZulu-Natal and extorting money from them by unlawfully compelling them to conclude these agreements and pay rental to the trust to continue living on the land,” Naidoo said.

Residents or occupiers, Naidoo added, were threatened by letters of demand if they did not pay and were “vulnerable to eviction”.

“The trust and the board assumed and exercised powers they do not have, but which are vested in the minister of rural development and land reform and the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs,” he said in court papers.

Casac wants the trust and board interdicted from entering into lease agreements with the kingdom’s residents and to cancel any lease agreement already signed. It also wants them to refund all money collected.

“The trust and board are interdicted from taking further steps and/or engaging in any conduct to persuade or induce any person who held or holds [Permission to Occupy] rights or [Interim Protection of Land Rights Act] rights in trust-held land to conclude a lease agreement with the trust without furnishing such rights holders with complete and accurate information about their existing land rights and the nature and effect of the lease agreement,” Casac said in court papers.

The income from these rentals increased every financial year, according to Naidoo’s founding affidavit, which quotes annual reports and presentations made to the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

In the 2016/2017 financial year, the Ingonyama Trust collected more than R106.8 million in rentals. These collections have been increasing every year as more and more residents have been signing the agreements.

When these lease agreements came into effect, the trust collected about R8.4 million.

King Zwelithini has been on the warpath to protect the land under the Ingonyama Trust since the ANC announced its plans to expropriate land without compensation. He has joined forces with Afrikaner lobby group AfriForum, which has been vehemently opposed to this policy.

A date for the hearing in the Pietermaritzburg High Court will be set once the king’s legal team has looked into the matter and filed responding papers, should they wish to do so.

The lease agreements require occupiers to obtain permission to build and must record all improvements on the land and submit records to the Ingonyama Trust. The trust is entitled to cancel the lease if an occupier fails to pay.

Sizwe sama Yende
City Press
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