Parliament is pushing back and stamping the state’s authority over the Ingonyama Trust Board amid legal threats and war talk by Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, who also wants the government to stop talking about land expropriation.
The National Assembly’s portfolio committee on rural development and land reform this week instructed the board to stop its conversion of permission to occupy agreements into long-term leases.
In a tense meeting on Wednesday, ANC MPs, who generally mollycoddle the board, were at the forefront of the attack, accusing the trust of reducing people’s rights and questioning its interests.
“I must say I am really disappointed by the presentation given by the judge (Jerome Ngwenya, chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust Board) here that a lease could be the highest form of land ownership according to them, in which you actually reduce rights that people have on the land, reducing them to being tenants,” charged Elleck Nchabeleng of the ANC.
“A landowner with permission to occupy land and can use it, now has to pay rent on that land as a tenant.
“This sounds like the Ingonyama Trust Board is deepening the theatre of land dispossession and even watering down rights that people have on land.
“I am beginning to doubt whether the board has the interests of rural people at heart,” he said.
“What’s so different about KwaZulu-Natal where people have to lose their rights to the Ingonyama Trust Board? This is the board dispossessing people of their land. This is what this thing leads to…” Nchabeleng said.
He was not the only ANC MP to hint that there was nothing special about KwaZulu-Natal and that it had to obey the laws of the republic.
“The Ingonyama Trust Board land is the land that came from the KwaZulu-Natal government and that’s South African land.
“Put simply ... [it] doesn’t have its own currency, its own police, Cabinet – it is part of South Africa. We’ve got a unitary state,” said MP Phumzile Mnguni.
Tension has been building since a report was published late last year by a Kgalema Motlanthe-led high-level panel, which spent two years investigating the effect of laws passed by Parliament.
The panel recommended and called for the repeal of the Ingonyama Trust Act to bring KwaZulu-Natal in line with national land policy.
Zwelithini threw down the gauntlet at the opening of the KwaZulu Natal provincial House of Traditional Leaders this week, saying the government must refrain from speaking about expropriation of land that falls under the trust.
He said the Zulu nation would stop at nothing to protect the land given to them by their forefathers.
Ngwenya confirmed to MPs that the trust invited people who resided on the Ingonyama Trust Board land to have their permission to occupy converted into “other instruments, in particular leases”.
He argued that permission to occupy was an apartheid government creation which gave black people restricted rights to land, no ownership and was not recognisable under the present constitutional regime.
He also argued that financial institutions did not accept permission to occupy for the purposes of collateral, but did accept a long-term lease.
A court ruling forcing the KwaZulu-Natal government to pay public servants living on the Ingonyama Trust land had necessitated new documentation being issued.
Ngwenya hinted that without the rentals, the Ingonyama Trust would not be able to implement its programmes.
He said its current budget was in excess of R50 million, with only R19 million from the state.
He said that would meet only the requirement of the board to pay the staff to sit in the office and do nothing.
“For Ingonyama Trust to begin to even go out to one piece of land and do a survey, you need equipment and a car, both are paid for by the revenue generated in the form of rental from leases,” he said.
The committee rejected judge Ngwenya’s presentation and instructed the trust to put on hold the conversion of permission to occupy, saying it must thoroughly consult the land reform department and the communities living on the land and present whatever decisions they take to Parliament.
“What we would like to see is the conversion of the informal ownership to title deed, to give our people the dignity that they own the land they are living on.
“They are not tenants, they are owners. That is what we want to see as this committee,” said MP Phumuzile Ngwenya-Mabila, chairperson of the committee.
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