Ingonyama Trust to get a new board ‘soon’

By Paddy Harper

The process of appointing a new, permanent Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) — and an investigation into the land administration entity’s finances — has still not been concluded, despite the 1 January  deadline set by Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza.

But, says her spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, the two processes remain on track and should be wrapped up “soon”.

The term of the ITB office — which administers nearly three million hectares of tribal land on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu — expired last June and was extended by Didiza for three months until 31  August.

On 1 September, Didiza, whose department funds the ITB, appointed an interim board and extended the term of office of its chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya, to allow for its restructuring while new members were selected.

Ngwenya, a former judge, is the nominee of the monarch, who is being consulted, along with KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, about the appointment of a new chairperson.

Although no timeline was set for permanent appointments to the new board, Didiza said late last year that the process, along with the investigation into the ITB’s finances, should be concluded by 1 January.

The new interim board, whose members include lawyer Linda Zama and former Durban International Convention Centre chief executive Zethu Qunta, has focused on reorganising the entity.

Earlier this year, Ngwenya initiated a retrenchment process in response to R23-million in funding being withheld by Didiza over the ITB’s failure to submit audited financial statements and annual reports on time.

The interim board halted the process and an organogram drafted by Ngwenya was rejected because it failed to provide staff for community, youth and women’s development programmes.

Ngcobo said that due processes, including consultation with the monarch and the premier about the chairperson, who is the king’s nominee, still had to be concluded.

He added that the investigation into the ITB’s finances and allegations by traditional leaders that Ngwenya had used the body to enrich himself were still ongoing.

“There were certain allegations made by amakhosi that still have to be followed up before the investigation can be concluded,” Ngcobo said.

A source close to the process told the Mail & Guardian that the interim board had not held a full meeting during its three months of existence, with only committees tasked with dealing with various aspects of the ITB’s overhaul continuing to meet.

“It has been impossible for the full board to meet since it was appointed. Committees are meeting, but in a splintered way,” the source said. “There is no full-time chief executive, no company secretary, or no legal advisers in place. The entire structure is dysfunctional.”

Six of the ITB’s top executives — including chief executive officer Lucas Mkhwanazi and chief financial officer Amin Mia — returned to work late last year after being placed on de facto suspension by Ngwenya.

The group was reinstated in terms of a ruling by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. Mkhwanazi has since retired.

Ngcobo referred questions regarding the day-to-day functioning of the ITB to Ngwenya.

ITB spokesperson Simphiwe Mxakaza referred queries from the M&G to Ngwenya. He did not respond to calls or emails from this newspaper.

This article first appeared in Mail & Guardian on 14 January 2021.

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