By Paddy Harper
Instead, Ngwenya, who served in the post for more than 20 years, has gone to court to try to overturn the decision by Land Reform, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza to appoint an interim board at the entity.
The Ingonyama Trust was set up during South Africa’s transition to democracy, to consolidate the former KwaZulu homeland on the Zulu king’s behalf, securing in the process the participation in the 1994 elections of the then Inkatha, today’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
Its day-to-day business is conducted by the ITB, which administers about 2.8 million hectares of traditionally controlled land on the monarch’s behalf, collecting revenue from mining rights and commercial leases
Ngwenya’s revolt against the decision of the king — whose late father, Goodwill Zwelithini ka Dinuzulu, appointed him — has been accompanied by a push back from his allies among the province’s amakhosi.
It has sparked another intervention by the king’s traditional prime minister, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who said on Sunday that he had not been consulted by the monarch and would meet him this week.
King Misuzulu decided to intervene in the ITB last month after the Mail & Guardian exposed a controversial R41 million investment by Ingonyama Holdings, its financial wing, set up by Ngwenya in 2019.
Ngwenya was forced to publicly account for the transaction, which he did, saying that there was now a dispute with the service provider, who had failed to deliver on a promised R2 billion investment which the R41 million was meant to unlock.
In a memorandum to staff on 21 April, Ngwenya said he remained the chairperson of the board and accused the ITB chief executive, Vela Mngwengwe, of making what he called a desperate attempt to “confuse everyone”.
Ngwenya accused Mngwengwe of acting out of “malice and ignorance” in an earlier memorandum to staff in which he informed them that Mzimela had been appointed as the new board chairperson.
“The current chairperson of the board, Mr SJ Ngwenya (myself) remains the chairperson of the board as has continuously been the case for the last many years,” he said.
Ngwenya said that a briefing to parliament’s portfolio committee on land reform that the monarch had been abroad was “nothing but blatant lies” because the king was in South Africa.
Ngwenya said he had approached the high court for an order setting aside the decision to appoint an interim board and preserve its decisions until a new board was appointed, within 30 days of the court delivering its order.
He said Didiza had indicated her intention to oppose the application, so “this matter as from today will move from this premise”.
“No doubt there is currently no properly constituted board. The process commenced by the minister in March 2022, to appoint the board is legally flawed. I remain the only lawfully appointed board member since my appointment is a royal one and stems from Ingonyama,” he said.
Ngwenya accused staff, led by Mngwengwe, of “high handed and thuggery” behaviour for “trying to evict and dispossess me of my office and contents thereto in the most debased fashion”.
“They attempted to break into my office, change locks and thus become the custodians thereof. This is plain criminal conduct and requires criminal redress,” he said.
Ngwenya added that he was aware that the ITB did not have sufficient funds to meet its commitments and said he would not be surprised if “the current level of impunity” led to the abuse of trust funds
Buthelezi said in a statement that he would meet the king to discuss the appointment, at the monarch’s request, “in line with what his father, our late king, would do, particularly on matters surrounding the Ingonyama Trust”.
Buthelezi said he was “the author of the legislation that placed the land of the Zulu kingdom into a trust, making his majesty the sole custodian of our land”.
“The present matters that are creating so much uncertainty and concern will thus be clarified soon. In the meantime, it is opportunistic for anyone to portray the present situation as evidence of a rift between his majesty and I as his traditional prime minister,” he said.
“There is no rift whatsoever, which is clear from the fact that we continue to communicate on all matters relating to the kingdom, and will meet within the next few days to discuss developments within the Ingonyama Trust Board.”
On Tuesday, Buthelezi’s spokesperson, Liesel van der Merwe, said there would be a meeting later in the week.
Professor Musa Xulu, chairperson of the Indonsa Yesizwe, a think tank supporting the monarchy, said on Monday the king could take over as chairperson of the ITB while the crisis over the appointment of Mzimela was resolved.
“It is concerning that the current friction is motivated by personalities, not systems and process to promote access to land and security of tenure for millions in rural communities in the land under the Ingonyama Trust,” he said.
Xulu said the modernisation of the monarchy was being held back by “gatekeepers” and a lack of skilled administrative support for the king from “poorly qualified and inexperienced persons who purport to manage” the king’s diary, but in reality restrict access.
He said the lack of support for the king from amakhosi left him “alone, acting alone and extremely vulnerable”.
Xulu called on amakhosi and provincial government to play their roles in supporting the king and in ensuring that he received the resources and backing he needed.