AmaZulu King threatens to take government to the ICJ over Ingonyama Trust control, but that’s not possible

By Nkosikhona Duma

The AmaZulu King, Misuzulu kaZwelithini, has threatened to take the South African government to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over control of the Ingonyama Trust, but this is not possible.

According to the ICJ website, the court only entertains two types of cases, namely “legal disputes between States submitted to it by them (contentious cases) and requests for advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by United Nations organs and specialised agencies (advisory proceedings)”.

King Misuzulu was speaking at a meeting of amakhosi (chiefs) which he convened at KwaZulu-Natal’s old legislature building in Ulundi, northern KwaZulu-Natal, on Thursday.

He said: “Just as they know how to take action against Israel, I’ll show them what it feels like.”

After the AmaZulu monarch’s address on Thursday, his spokesperson Thulasizwe Buthelezi clarified to reporters the king was merely mentioning “options” when he threatened to take the matter to the ICJ.

Buthelezi added that the king would first summon Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza to raise his concerns regarding the Ingonyama Trust, and its board, and take further action following a meeting with the minister.

The AmaZulu monarch claimed that the government wanted to take power away from him.

He told amakhosi that legal action would be taken through the Kingdom of Eswatini, with the help of his uncle, King Mswati III.

Misuzulu’s disgruntlement stems from the government intention to comply with a 2021 Pietermaritzburg High Court order that ruled that communal land ownership must be handed back to the hands of individuals and families living on tribal land.

The order interdicted the trust from imposing lease agreements on those whose families historically resided on the land.

Front, from left to right: Prince Simphiwe Zulu, Z

Front, from left to right: Prince Simphiwe Zulu, Zulu regent’s representative in the national house of traditional leaders; AmaZulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini; AmaZulu Traditional Prime Minister Thulasizwe Buthelezi, and AmaZulu Deputy Traditional Prime Minister Inkosi Phathisizwe Buthelezi. (Nkosikhona Duma/News24)

The court order came as a result of legal action taken by the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) and seven individual holders of informal land rights against the Ingonyama Trust, who alleged that their land rights were being violated by the trust after it sought to impose lease agreements on them.

In their legal action, the communities were assisted by the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.

The court further ordered that the Ingonyama Trust must refund those who had paid towards the lease agreements.

The Ingonyama Trust was established in 1994 by the former KwaZulu Government in terms of the KwaZulu Ingonyama Trust Act to hold all the land that was owned or belonged to the KwaZulu Government.

According to the act, the mandate of the trust is to hold all this land for the “benefit, material welfare and social well-being of the members of the tribes and communities” living on the land.

About 2.8 million hectares of land in KwaZulu-Natal are under the administration of the Ingonyama Trust, whose sole trustee is the Zulu regent, King Misuzulu kaZwelithini.

The Ingonyama Trust Board collects over R100 million annually from those leasing the land.

Previously News24 reported that trust funds were used for the personal benefit of the AmaZulu royal family, contrary to its disbursement policy.

On Thursday, King Misuzulu insisted that he was primary beneficiary of the trust, and amakhosi were secondary beneficiaries.

Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, told News24 that the department, the AmaZulu King and the Ingonyama Trust board still had a responsibility to discuss how they should implement the judgment by the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg.

Regarding the mention of ICJ, Ngcobo said the department was concerned.

Ngcobo said:

It will be appreciated to know what makes Isilo thinks the government wants to take his powers in respect of the governance of ITB [Ingonyama Trust Board]. As far as government is concerned, Isilo is the sole Trustee of Ingonyama Trust and the Board, chaired by the King [who] manages the land on behalf of Amakhosi and communities whose land is under ITB.


Ngcobo said the situation had not changed, and if it were, an amendment to the Ingonyama Trust would have to be effected by Parliament.

“So, the matter of going to the International Court does not arise as far as government is concerned because nowhere has government indicated that it will take the powers of Isilo nor the ITB land,” Ngcobo said.

This article first appeared on News24 on 24 May 2024.

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