Workshop confronting the threat to tenure security posed by vast tribal land claims


Members of affected rural communities, civil society organisations and academics resolved at a two-day workshop in KwaZulu-Natal on August 12-13 to probe reports of tenure abuses experienced by communities on Ingonyama Trust land and to seek a meeting with the Land Restitution Commission on the likely impact of proposed giant tribal claims under the reopened land restitution process.

They resolved to consider legal action against the Ingonyama Trust if the reports are confirmed.

An amendment to the Restitution of Land Rights Act signed into law at the end of June gives people five more years to lodge claims for land from which they were dispossessed under colonial and apartheid rule. President Jacob Zuma told the House of Traditional Leaders on 27 February to line up their lawyers and prepare to lodge claims for land restitution. King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekhuzulu has been first out of the blocks, announcing last month that he would make a huge land claim ostensibly on behalf of the Zulu nation. King Zwelithini’s claim will be managed by the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), which was the outcome of a deal between the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party during the dying days of apartheid. The ITB already holds close to three million hectares of land in KwaZulu-Natal. Through its proposed new land claim, the Trust intends to acquire much more land in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as in the Eastern Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga.

An urgent workshop was called in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, on 12-13 August to discuss and respond to moves by King Zwelithini and the ITB to expand their domain. The workshop brought together members of land claimant groups, communities living on Ingonyama Trust land, and academics specialising in land reform and the history of the province. At the workshop, people raised concerns about how the King’s claims might affect them and engaged with the complex history of the KwaZulu-Natal region, challenging the notion of a unified Zulu identity on which the King is basing his land claim. The concerns triggered by the new claims have shed light on the dark and rarely-talked-about reality of living under the ITB.

Delegates from Melmoth, near Ulundi, and Dukuduku, near St Lucia, told of the abuses they have suffered living on Ingonyama Trust land, which resonated with many others at the workshop. Men from Melmoth described how the traditional leader in their area and the ITB had gone behind the community’s back to sign an agreement with a mining company. People from Mthubatuba told of their horror when graves were moved to make way for mining operations on which they had never been consulted.  In both Melmoth and Mthubatuba people were told they had no basis to challenge mining that encroaches on land they have used for generations because the land does not belong to them, but to the Ingonyama Trust.

A woman from Dukuduku said it was extremely difficult to get a land allocation approved by the local traditional council. People have resorted to paying amounts of nearly R30 000 to sweeten the deal. But money gets you nowhere if you are of the ‘wrong’ political party, they said. In some cases women reported having to offer sexual favours to traditional council members in order to get land.

King Zwelithini’s new land claim is worrying those with outstanding claims lodged in the first round of the restitution process but still stuck in the system. At the workshop, people from Babanango and Bishopstowe expressed concern that the expected slew of new claims – including the King’s – could delay the resolution of their existing claims. There are about 20 000 claimant groups across the country who share their dilemma of an unresolved restitution claim, more than 15 years after the initial lodgement period closed. Claimants’ fears of their outstanding claims being trumped by new ones are aggravated by the fact that the Land Claims Commission is doing a poor job of communicating with them. A group who put in labour-tenant claims in Babanango more than 10 years ago are directly threatened by plans to erect yet another palace for the King on their ancestral land. Wild animals have been introduced and new fence has cut them off from their water supply.

Frustrations about the slow pace of restitution sparked animated conversation culminating in a call – echoing that made during public hearings on the Restitution Amendment bill – that claims lodged prior to 1998 should be insulated from new claims on the same land (‘ring-fenced’) and not merely ‘prioritised’, as the Act currently provides.

Many people at the workshop rejected the idea of one Zulu nation and grappled with the issue of which version of history would be used to support the King’s claim. People at the workshop felt very strongly that the restitution process should not be an opportunity for the King to benefit at their expense. There was consensus that decisions on how land is returned should rest with claimant communities. The involvement of a Trust or a Communal Property Association (CPA) or a traditional leader should be a choice made by the community. Neither the government nor traditional leaders – including the King – should make this decision, delegates said.

The workshop attendees resolved to hold a follow-up meeting with all relevant stakeholders to which senior officials of the Restitution Commission would be invited. They hope that the Commission will be forced to finally answer questions about their stalled claims.  The meeting also resolved to further investigate abuses of tenure security on Ingonyama Trust land with a view to taking legal action against the Trust.  The law clearly states that the land is held in trust for the benefit of ordinary people, but the Board acts as though traditional leaders are its sole beneficiaries.   The protections guaranteed by the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act, and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act appear to be routinely flouted.

Issued by: The Rural Women’s Movement, the Association for Rural Advancement; and the Centre for Law and Society from the University of Cape Town. For further information including contact details for affected communities, contact:

Tara Weinberg, Centre for Law and Society:  021 6503405, 079-8729273
Thabo Manyathi: 073 602 2370
Mary de Haas: 083-2270485
Siyabonga Sithole, Association for Rural Advancement: 033-3457607, 076-2779499
Sizani Ngubane, Rural Women’s Movement: 073-8405151

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