Didiza intervenes in ‘paralysed’ Ingonyama Trust Board

Paddy Harper

Land reform minister Thoko Didiza has intervened in the “paralysis” of the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), committing the troubled entity to an organisational overhaul to ensure that its operations benefit people living on land under its control.

Didiza met the ITB on Wednesday following recommendations by Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee that she investigate the board, whose funding has been withheld because of its failure to meet the deadline for its 2020/2021 budget. The ITB subsequently tabled a budget that failed to provide for programmes to benefit people living on the 2.8-million hectares of land in KwaZulu-Natal, which it administers on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Last week the parliamentary portfolio committee, in its report on the 2020/2021 budget, recommended that Didiza investigate the labour disputes that have “paralysed” the ITB and come up with a solution within three months. The committee also recommended that Didiza continue to hold back R22-million in funding until the board presents plans that will materially benefit people living on land falling under its control.

The committee also wants the board to amend its budget — which was submitted late after key staff members were put on special leave — to reflect programmes aimed at benefiting people living there.

Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, said she had discussed the labour dispute and other concerns raised by the parliamentary committee with the ITB at a “robust and honest” meeting.

Earlier this year, board chairperson Jerome Ngwenya placed the board’s chief executive officer, Lucas Mkhwanazi, chief finance officer Amin Mia and four other executives on special leave.

Seven other staff members have been on paid special leave since 2018. The group went to the labour court in May to force Ngwenya to pay them their salaries.

“The board indicated that an investigation in this regard is about to be concluded, hence they will properly brief the minister on the future direction of the matter once they have received and considered the report,’’ Ngcobo said.

Didiza had tasked her director general, Mdu Shabane, to work with the ITB to address the committee’s concerns and other operational issues. This would culminate in an agreement between Didiza and the ITB recording her expectations and its targets, which would correspond with the board’s resources.

Ngcobo said the meeting was the beginning of a “series of future structured engagements” with the ITB that would allow her to exercise her authority over it.

In its report, the parliamentary committee recommended that the board amend its budget to “‘reflect the purpose for which [it] was established”, ensuring that the administration of the land “is for the material benefit to the traditional communities residing on the land in question” and recommended that funding should be held back until there is evidence of this and the board’s “stability and accountability”.

The department should, it said, investigate the underlying causes of the multiple labour disputes between the board and many of its senior managers, which have paralysed the ITB and affected its efficiency.

A report, including proposed interventions, should be wrapped up in three months.

The committee also noted Didiza’s failure to provide the report by an inter-ministerial committee appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to make recommendations on the board’s future.

Ramaphosa appointed the inter-ministerial body to deal with issues regarding the ITB after there was no action on a report of Parliament’s high-level panel, which recommended that it should be reformed or dissolved.

The parliamentary committee noted that there was “no indication of support to communities in line with the [Ingonyama Trust] Act” or for youth, women and people with disabilities.

The board had also failed to develop policies and continued to reflect targets of the 2019 financial year.

“It was, therefore, clear that there was little or no progress with regard to policy formulation by the [board, which] lacks adequate human resources capacity. It also did not indicate plans and targets for filling vacant posts,” the report said.

Ngwenya had not responded to requests for comment from the Mail & Guardian at the time of publishing.

The ITB is also facing a high court challenge to its residential lease programme by people living on trust land and nongovernmental organisations, whose date is to be set by the KwaZulu-Natal judge president. A hearing set for March was stopped because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

This article first appeared in Mail & Guardian on 4 June 2020.

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