‘Motlanthe agents’ protest customary taxes

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A group of community members living in Dlovinga village in Izingolweni on KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast have been labelled “Kgalema Motlanthe agents” for challenging the levy fees and taxes imposed by their local chief.

After testifying before a panel led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, Lerato Ntombela and other members of the committee say they are living in fear because they are being threatened. The panel was established in January 2016 to assess laws passed by Parliament, and its report was compiled after 22 months of consultations and public hearings across the country.

It made recommendations on land reform, the transformation of the education system, strategies to deal with inequality, and ways to address the urban-rural divide through the implementation of constitutional rights.

It also proposed to dissolve the Ingonyama Trust. The working group on land reform, redistribution, restitution and security of tenure, which looked at KwaZulu-Natal, stated in its section of the report: “The Ingonyama Trust is busy campaigning to make people pay leases on land for which their grandparents paid, thereby taking people back to the apartheid era.”

In addition, the report states that: “The people have nothing. Minerals belong to the government, people live under difficult circumstances, they are told that the land belongs to the Ingonyama Trust … If people want to build houses in the area, they are told that the land belongs to the traditional leaders.” Communities were also wary of the power given to chiefs, calling them “corrupt … arrogant and [unable to] understand socioeconomic conditions.”

The report noted that rent increases by 10% a year, which is increasingly difficult for people to pay, and that business people pay high fees in villages under Ingonyama control. “People need to be educated on policy formulation and the legislative process,” the report recommended. “[This will] enable them to actively participate in the legislative process to ensure that relevant laws are reviewed, including the Constitution, if needed.’’

Afraid to speak out

Community member Thembinkosi Mkhize said that since participating in the hearings, his eyes have been opened. “We now know that the land does not belong to izinduna [headmen], amakhosi [chiefs] or the king. The land belongs to our forefathers. The land is ours.”

Many community members share this sentiment but are too afraid to speak out. “We are being made to pay this money. It is illegal, but people are scared to talk,” said Mkhize.

In February, Ntombela and about 10 other community members, including people who were former members of the local traditional council, formed a committee that would speak out against acting chief Thembekile Cele, who became chief after her husband, Khandalesizwe Cele, died.

New Frame met Ntombela and others in a small community hall overlooking the picturesque mountains of the village.

Ntombela said community members started complaining when Cele raised the khonza fee, a levy paid by community members who want to live on traditional land and administered by the Ingonyama Trust.

According to political analyst Protas Madlala, this is how traditional land was obtained in the past. The fee could be paid in the form of traditional beer, a goat, sheep or cattle, but today, the process was being abused by chiefs. “These days, they are asking people to pay R40 000 to buy land and that money does not go towards benefiting the community. It is shared among izinduna,” Madlala said.

“We used to pay R250, and that amount increased to R650, and now we are paying R1 050,” Ntombela said. She alleged that once the fee was paid, the chiefs gave people a receipt with an amount lower than what they had paid. “We have always been made to pay the khonza fee. It is our tradition, but we do not like it. On top of the money that must be paid, [Cele] demands a case of beer and a goat.

“The same applies when you want to open a business, like a spaza shop,” Ntombela went on. “She makes you pay R7 000, a case of beer and a goat. When you marry into another village, you pay. If your bride or groom is from another village, you pay. If you leave the village without [telling someone], you pay. If you return without reporting to the inkosi, you pay. If I build a back room for one of my children on the same plot of land, I must also pay. [Cele] can demand that you pay whatever she wants.”

Ntombela said that in the past, community members could pay chiefs with anything they could afford. But the new chiefs have higher demands, including that every member of the community pay a levy of R50 annually. “We complained to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs [Cogta], but they sided with the amakhosi,” she said.

The community called on Dr. Aninka Claassens, director of the Land and Accountability Research Centre. Claassens, who was a member of the panel, confirmed that people were being made to pay taxes in rural areas without receiving any services.

Threats

Not all members of the community support Ntombela and the others. “Before we attended the hearings, we were promised that bullets were waiting for us when we returned,” Ntombela said. “We are not allowed to meet, and we feel that our lives are in danger because we are speaking out. Inkosi  says we are agents sent by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, and [that] she will go to [the] Ingonyama Trust and inform King Goodwill Zwelithini that we are agents.”

“We need an imbizo so that amakhosi can be made aware that what they are doing is illegal,” added community member Bongani Shezi. “We have been threatened [with murder or poisoning], and we fear for our lives, but we do not care any more.”

When New Frame contacted Cele, she refused to discuss matters of traditional affairs over the phone. “I suggest that you come to the village and speak to me and my council about this matter,” said Cele. She invited New Frame to attend the traditional court, which sits every Tuesday.

“The only issues I am aware of in the community was that they had a problem with the induna. I know that that matter has since been resolved, and they are now working with induna,” said Cele.

Provincial investigation

Cogta provincial spokesperson for KwaZulu-Natal Lennox Mabaso said the department was investigating issues related to taxes paid to rural leadership in the province. “The legislation says it is the South African Revenue Service as well as municipalities that can charge taxes and levies for services that they render. If a municipality is not issuing you with services, then they cannot make you pay,” said Mabaso.

The investigation is ongoing. “One of the things we have discovered is that there are communities that are not in agreement about the taxes. We want to establish which taxes are part of tradition and customs so that the process can be standardised … In some cases, people are made to pay [in] goats, some are paying R600 and others R70 000.” In some areas, Mabaso said, the taxes were not in line with the Constitution.

“The intention of the investigation is [to] meet with the amakhosi [to] establish uniformity. If there is a khonza fee in KwaZulu-Natal, the amakhosi need to agree on one fee for the whole province.”

Mabaso encouraged people to continue paying. “We need people to make sure that they get receipts,” Mabaso insisted, “so that they can prove that they are paying a levy [to avoid getting] chased out of the communities.” He also said committee and community members who are being threatened should open cases with the police.

Despite the alleged death threats, the committee will continue to challenge the taxes. “We are going to carry on fighting,” Ntombela said.

This article first appeared in New Frame on 1 October 2018.

opinion-grey Amanda Khosa is a Senior Journalist at the Centre for Pan African Media
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