Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini is trying to take land that was awarded to his “subjects” in a land claim.
Five communities who were removed from prime agricultural land in KwaZulu-Natal decades ago have been trying to get it back for the past 20 years.
After a decade-long administrative process, there was hope – the 30 current owners of the farms in Melmoth are prepared to sell the 11 000 hectares of land to the state for R760 million.
The state is prepared to pay for it and the communities stand ready with community organisations to take it over.
But Zwelithini has thrown a spanner into the works.
The Ingonyama Trust says in papers before the Land Claims Court that the land cannot be given to the communities because they are “subjects” of the king, and that the land in question belongs to the Zulu nation.
The Ingonyama Trust already holds 2.8 million hectares of land.
The land that the communities are claiming is situated next to land belonging to the trust in the Melmoth district, about 90km west of Richards Bay and 50km east of Nkandla by road.
It consists of prime agricultural land for sugar cane, forestry, avocados and cattle farming.
The court on Thursday heard that there could be “conflict, chaos and bloodletting” if the land wasn’t transferred to the Ingonyama Trust instead.
This is because there are believed to be “competing [traditional] authorities” who will want to exercise control over the land.
According to the trust and traditional laws of the Zulu nation, the wishes of all Zulu people and the history of the portions of land in question need to be taken into account.
The trust said an induna and an nkosi were in control of the land before they were removed.
The people who were evicted then went to live on land that today forms part of the Ingonyama Trust.
According to the trust, they do not want to seize the land for the king, but keep it in trust – just like other Zulu land – “to ensure that the land is utilised for the benefit of the entire community to whom the land is awarded”.
But the Entembeni, Makhasaneni and Mthonjaneni communities beg to differ.
On Thursday, they told the court that the Ingonyama Trust was opportunistic and taking this step to acquire land when it was never the claimant.
These communities are living on the Ingonyama Trust’s land, but that does not make them subjects incapable of owning the land in their own name, they argue.
“In the event that the court awards the land to the Ingonyama Trust, it will not be administered by the claimants and they will not have access to the land in the true sense of the word,” they said in court papers.
They say it’s also not true that the majority of their communities want the Ingonyama Trust to own the land on their behalf.
“There is no evidence in this regard before the court, and the court cannot accept that this is the case.”
One of the representatives of the Mthonjaneni community, whose name is being withheld for his safety at his lawyer’s request, told City Press’ sister publication Rapport that the king and the trust did not have any claim to the land.
Land owner Nico Harris said the case had dragged on for more than a decade and that the farmer’s association had already spent millions on legal costs.
“Just like the claimants and government, we were very happy with the settlement that we had agreed to in principle. That’s why it was a major setback for everyone when the Ingonyama Trust overturned everything with its claim out of the blue,” he said.
Bertus van der Merwe, the owners’ attorney, said it was the biggest land claim in KwaZulu-Natal and the total value was about R3 billion.
Judgment was reserved.
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