'Ingonyama Trust's land not under threat, it's a power play', says land researcher

King Goodwill Zwelithini (Picture: AFP)
King Goodwill Zwelithini (Picture: AFP)

President Cyril Ramaphosa "bending the knee" to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini is not surprising and has to do with mining rights.

This is according to Dr Aninka Claassens, a senior researcher at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) department of public law, who was speaking on Thursday at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Claassens, who has been working in rural communities resisting forced evictions since the 1980s, was one of the participants in the UFS’ inaugural Thought-Leader series. It focused on land reform against the backdrop of the current national debate about expropriation without compensation.

She also served on a high-level panel appointed by Parliament to review legislation on land reform.

This high-level panel, which was chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, recommended that the Ingonyama Act, that was enacted just before the democratic elections in 1994, be repealed.

Ever since the release of the report veiled threats of violence and secession has been forthcoming from King Goodwill Zwelithini, who is the trust’s sole trustee.

'Wonderful meeting' 

Last week, Ramaphosa skipped a community meeting in Chatsworth to rather go to Ulundi to meet King Zwelithini. The president said he assured the king in a "wonderful meeting" that neither the government nor the ANC had any intention of taking land from the Ingonyama Trust.

READ: Ramaphosa tells Zulu King Zwelithini that land in Ingonyama Trust is safe

Communal land came under the spotlight at the UFC event and was robustly discussed.

Claassens was of the view that there is no threat to land that is being administered by the trust and the real issue is that the Motlanthe-led panel dared to criticise the Ingonyama Trust.

She pointed out that their recommendation about the Ingonyama Trust was only one of several recommendations.

The trust leased out land on which people have had houses and fields. It is bound by law to report to the department of rural development and land reform and Parliament.

In March, Parliament instructed the trust to stop the leasing of land, to no avail.

"The trust is relying on the President’s statement to ensure that all forms of oversight will stop," she said.

"What is really happening in KwaZulu-Natal is the most simple form of rent-seeking," she said.

"The trust is commodifying land people lived on for years," said Claassens, adding that it entrenches structural inequality.

'Benefits or mining' 

She said multinational mining companies are involved. 

"In that context, him (Ramaphosa) bending the knee to the king is not surprising, it has to do with mining and the benefits of mining," she explained. "And tragically, that mining boom is dispossessing black people."

She said politicians set up rent-seeking mechanisms based on the same structures as colonialism.

Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza, holder of the AC Jordan Chair in African Studies at UCT, said the reserves established by colonial governments for indigenous people are still with us in South Africa today.

"We must find a way to do away with the Bantustan system," he said.

Professor Philippe Burger, acting dean of the faculty of economic and management sciences at UFS, said the Ingonyama Trust must be reformed.

However, he said he doesn’t see that happening, "particularly with an election coming up".

Burger said power needs to go from chiefs to the communities itself.

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