Mixing expropriation with Ingonyama is mischievous

Amongst assertions made at the recent ANC Land Summit, it seems the one issue that has permeated media analysis is the misinterpretation of former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s statement that most traditional leaders act as tin-pot dictators.

Motlanthe’s forthright statement predictably enraged many traditional leaders, but it should be seen in the context of the heated land debate as a caution to guard against the abuse of power – especially in relation to land ownership and tenure.

“Some traditional leaders support the ANC, but the majority of them are acting like village tin-pot dictators to the people there. The people had high hopes the ANC would liberate them from these confines of the homeland systems, but clearly we are the ones who are saying the land must go to traditional leaders and not the people,” the Sowetan quoted Motlanthe as saying.

Traditional leadership is formally recognized in Chapter 12 of the Constitution, has it’s own congress in the form of CONTRALESA and  has statutory bodies in the national and provincial houses of traditional leaders. With all these factors taken into account, it is clear that traditional leadership is highly respected and plays a significant socio-political role in South Africa.

The implication that former president Motlanthe disrespects all traditional leaders is simply misinformed. As the chair of the High Level Panel, commissioned by the Speaker of Parliament, however, the former president did hear first-hand, grounded information from rural citizens about the injustices that they experience at the hands of some traditional leaders. Just as not all politicians are corrupt, but those who are need to be exposed, so the former president is right to highlight potential problem areas in respect of traditional leadership.

Traditional leaders, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, are conflating what Motlanthe’s concern and what the Panel said about the abuse of customary authority with the proposed amendment of the Constitution to enable expropriation without compensation in an apparent attempt to justify a fight against a government which they allege is bent on dispossessing chiefs of their land.

In terms of the Ingonyama Trust Act, the detailed recommendations found in the 600-page High Level Panel Report, suggest that it be repealed or extensively amended to give residents and communities control of the land they occupy.

These are some of the ways the report proposed to navigate these changes (pages 202 – 277):

“The Repeal Act should provide for the repeal of the Ingonyama Trust Act of 1994 and for the disestablishment and dissolution of the Ingonyama Trust. It should include provisions for the transfer of the Trust land, assets, liabilities, rights and obligations to the Minister responsible for land affairs as custodian on behalf of the members of the communities and residents concerned.”; and

 “An Amendment Act should provide for the amendment of the Act to ensure that trust land(including all land registered in the name of the Ingonyama as trustee for the Ingonyama Trust) is administered for and on behalf of and for the benefit of the members of the communities and residents concerned. It should also include provisions amending the composition of the Ingonyama Trust Board, which should fall under the auspices of the Minister responsible for land affairs, to provide that trust land shall be subject to national land programmes, to reiterate that the Act shall not apply to land in all townships, to provide for a trust fund, and to preserve the records of the Trust and establish a ‘land register’.”

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform has tried over several years to get the board of the Ingonyama Trust to account for the R20 million it receives from the government and for its other income. While the board continues to complain that the annual grant is inadequate, its report to the committee in May showed it had underperformed at every stipulated activity in support of ordinary people. The question remains, if you have not met the targets, but money is still being spent, where is it going?

The portfolio committee also has expressed grave concern about the tenure security of rural citizens.  The Ingonyama Trust Board has been asked numerous times this year to justify adverts in newspapers and on social media encouraging rural citizens who live within the jurisdiction of the Ingonyama Trust to apply for leases on land they already own both according to customary law and through official recognition in the form of Permission-To-Occupy certificates.

Despite an order to stop issuing residential leases to people with ownership rights, the Board continued to promote the conversion, causing one committee member, Mamagase  Nchabeleng, to suggest that the ITB should be placed under administration in terms of section 100 of the Constitution. This would allow the government to ensure that the trust is administered for the benefit of the people and not only the trustee. This process requires both national and provincial departments to work together to remedy immediate problems.

But as we have seen many times, the ANC-led government always put the needs of King Goodwill Zwelithini ahead of those of rural citizens.

Since the King held an imbizo, calling on amaZulu to strategize and prepare for war against a government that plans to dispossess them of their land, politicians have been rushing to reassure him that “his” land is safe.

The two separate issues of the problems with the Trust and the later debate about ‘expropriation without compensation’ have been disingenuously amalgamated into one to create confusion and fear.

Currently, public hearings are being held around the country to establish whether South Africans support amending the Constitution. This issue has nothing to do with the High Level Panel recommendations about legislative changes to the Ingonyama Trust Act.

The High Level Panel was created to examine, analyse and assess whether the laws that were established post 1994 had been effective in making a difference in people’s lives or not. This process started late in 2015 and only last year was the report handed over to Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of Parliament.

A parliamentary committee has since been established to look into the Panel’s recommendations and assess which ones should be turned into resolutions. None of these recommendations seeks to dispossess Zulu people of their land.

This notion was solidified by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he visited King Zwelithini, reassuring him that the focus of land reform was not on expropriating the land administered by traditional leaders or more specifically Ingonyama Trust.

This article first appeared in Sowetan on 26 July 2018.

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