A big issue in many news articles at the beginning of 2018 centred on the role of the Ingonyama Trust in KwaZulu-Natal and how it would be absorbed into an already failing national land administration system.
The Ingonyama Trust has been accused of undermining traditional leadership and more intricately, the customary land rights of people living within the Zulu nation. In recent weeks, however, we have seen a shift from some political figures paying secret and public visits to the King Goodwill Zwelithini, the head of the Trust, to reporters asking informed questions that delve deeper into the role and record of the Trust that he heads.
Journalists and analysts are asking why the High Level Panel headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe recommended in its final report last year that the Ingonyama Trust be dissolved or that the law under which it is established should be extensively amended.
It has been revealed through Paddy Harper’s 23rd March and 20th April Mail and Guardian articles that the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), the corporate entity that administers the land on behalf of Ingonyama Trust, has been in disarray for some years now. The controversial dealings of the chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya, and the constant high turnover of staff, who are allegedly hired and fired at the whim of the chairperson, has affected the meeting of targets. The perpetually incomplete organogram of ITB has been the backstop excuse for their underperformance during these past couple of years as evidenced from their Annual Reports to Parliament between 2014 till 2018.
Parliament’s portfolio committee for Rural Development and Land Reform tried to rein in the operations of ITB when, on the 7th of March 2018, they asked the Board to explain the reasons for its province-wide advertising campaign urging rural citizens living on Ingonyama Trust land to convert their Permission To Occupy (PTO) rights and customary land rights to leasehold. The portfolio committee chair, Ms Ngwenya Mabila, imposed a moratorium on the ITB, prohibiting them from issuing any new lease agreements until they have engaged with the department to develop a PTO-conversion policy.
Important questions about the generational wealth of black people were brought to the fore by ANC MP Mamagase Nchabaleng, who foresaw the ITB leasehold system compounding the dispossession of African people. Although the rural economy is a growing and thriving one, people on the ground still rely heavily on subsistence farming and social grants to support their way of life. And so, realistically, how do we expect rural citizens to pay the R1200 or even R4000 annual rental for land they already own according to customary law? And subsequently if they fail to pay, they would be vulnerable to losing their land.
People in the province of KwaZulu-Natal are discussing these parliamentary commentaries at meetings such as the workshop hosted by the KwaZulu-Natal Council of Churches and the Legal Resources Centre on 25 April.
Participants noted their dissatisfaction with the Ingonyama Trust Board. One of the participants from an area called Jozini, in the North of Kwa-Zulu Natal, said he was one of the people who spoke at the High Level Panel public hearings in KZN. He said he wanted to emphasise that he did not oppose or undermine traditional authority, but he is completely against the idea that he should lease land that he already owns through his customary right.
The leasehold system has been a money-making machine for the ITB for the past few years with no confirmed evidence that the rental incomes have contributed to bettering the lives of the people that live on Ingonyama Trust land, as claimed by Mr Ngwenya, the chairperson, during his presentation to the portfolio committee in March.
Even with the moratorium still in place, the Ingonyama Trust Board still has the PTO conversion adverts on their Twitter page, Facebook page and official website. Though the portfolio committee instructed the Board to start preparing for public consultations to fully educate rural citizens about their options, there is no mention on any of these platforms of any such plan. The ITB has done nothing yet to help rural citizens to decide either to convert their PTO’s to leasehold or perhaps to solidify their tenure rights through the Upgrading of Land Tenure Rights Act (ULTRA) of 1991 to outright ownership.
This ITB’s non-compliance has exasperated committee members who remain unconvinced that leasehold is the best way to secure the tenure of rural citizens.