New Form of Dispossession: King’s KZN Land Claim Signals Land Grab for Mineral Rights by Rural Elites*

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In recent months, it has been reported that the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, under the auspices of the Ingonyama Trust, is preparing to lodge a massive land claim that will cover much of the land in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Why is King Zwelithini lodging a land claim that goes back to 1875 when South Africa’s land restitution programme only recognizes land dispossessions after 1913?

Speaking at an event hosted by SACSIS and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) to examine the impact of traditional leadership on rural land reform, analyst Nomboniso Gasa, posited that there’s a new form of dispossession taking place in South Africa, as untapped mineral resources influence a new round of land claims by the rural elite.


Land rights and collective benefits for the rural poor are being sacrificed as a feudal and patriarchal system of governance, sustained in the name of heritage, is expanding the authority of chiefs over valuable tracts of land.

This quest for land and mineral rights by traditional authorities is motivated by deposits of platinum in the North West, unexplored coal in KZN and titanium on the Wild Coast, argued Gasa.

Land expert, Prof. Ben Cousins of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of Western Cape contended that traditional leaders enter into deals with mining companies in the name of the community, but that these deals are often private. The chiefs and their immediate family members benefit most from the deals with the broader community gaining few benefits.

He said that this is happening beyond mining in other areas such as tourism, agriculture and property development. For example, the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela chief, Nyalala Pilane, is developing a R300m shopping mall using money that he has gained from platinum royalties.

Cousins argued that the land grab by traditional leaders is taking place with the connivance of government. He said that government’s new communal land tenure policy proposes to transfer ownership of communal land to traditional councils who will hold the title to the outer boundary of the land. Traditional councils have 30% elected membership – 40% are supposed to be women, but the councils are still controlled by chiefs.

Is government’s new proposal to transfer communal land to traditional councils constitutional?

Cousins reported that when the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, was questioned at a recent land summit about whether this land transfer to traditional councils was constitutional, the minister answered, “You can win it in the courts, but I don’t care, it doesn’t change power relations out in reality.”

This transfer of communal land to traditional councils will keep rural women mired in on-going poverty, as they will continue to be excluded from exercising their right to land on the basis of exclusionary gender practices.

Speaking on behalf of the Rural Women’s Movement, Sizani Ngubane, highlighted the many challenges experienced by rural women who face continued discrimination under a feudal and patriarchal system of governance. Women-headed households in rural areas are the poorest in South Africa. They face on-going vulnerability and underdevelopment under traditional authorities in rural South Africa.

Cousins called for a new hybridized form of communal land ownership where custom would not be rejected, but made compatible with modern institutions — and quite importantly where women would have equal rights.

Meanwhile the Sowetan newspaper carried a report of this panel discussion on rural land reform and traditional leaders, highlighting Gasa’s remark that the Ingonyama Trust was established as a “dirty deal” between the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the dying days of apartheid. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the IFP responded to the report. As is to be expected, he refuted the charge about the apartheid-era “dirty deal”. Buthelezi also went on to deny that traditional authorities oppress rural women in response to issues raised at this SACSIS/FES panel discussion, as reported by the Sowetan.

This panel discussion on the impact of traditional leadership on rural land reform took place on 29 September 2014 at the Wits Club. The clip above is an edited version of the discussion.

About the Panelists

Sizani Ngubane
Sizani Ngubane founded the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) in KwaZulu-Natal sixteen years ago and under her leadership it has grown to a membership of nearly 50 000. Sizani has inspired thousands of rural women to become part of RWM with a vision to build a vibrant movement. Her stance has always been apolitical although she has pushed to have more women elected to decision-making bodies including Local and National Government. Part of the work she does is to train the rural women for such responsibilities.

Watch Ngubane’s input on our You Tube channel. Listen to her via podcast.

Nomboniso Gasa
Nomboniso Gasa is a researcher, analyst and public speaker on gender, politics and culture. She weaves together her academic background, lived experience and constant engagement with contemporary and historical South African issues. Her work is in scholarly journals, in local and international print, electronic and audio-visual media.  She has featured in international documentaries. She is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Law and Society, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town. Her focus is on the intersection of land, living custom, the construction of identities and Traditional Leadership.

Watch Gasa’s input on our You Tube channel. Listen to her via podcast.

Ben Cousins
Professor Ben Cousins holds a DST/NRF Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape. He holds a DPhil from the University of Zimbabwe, and was in exile between 1972 and 1991. His interests are land and agrarian reform, common property regimes, livestock production and smallholder agriculture.

Watch Cousins’ input on our You Tube channel. Listen to him via podcast.

*This piece was originally produced and published by The South African Civil Society Information Service (sacsis.org.za)

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