KZN LAND ISSUE

Ingonyama Trust head storms out of meeting after facing tough questions

By Des Erasmus 21 July 2020

King Goodwill Zwelithini. (Photo: Gallo Images / Thuli Dlamini)

The trust, whose sole trustee is King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, has received adverse audit findings for two consecutive years, with not one clean audit.

The chairman of the Ingonyama Trust Board, Judge Jerome Ngwenya, dramatically exited a Zoom meeting on Monday while political analyst Lukhona Mnguni was questioning him on the trust’s adverse audit reports. 

“Excuse me, I think I have got other things that are more important to do.  If you will excuse me. I will excuse myself!” huffed Ngwenya. 

 “No, no, just leave it! I am not here to debate with Mr Mnguni,” he sniped as Mnguni and DA KZN leader Zwakele Mncwango – the host of the meeting – tried to interject. 

Mncwango hosted the meeting as part of his Isithangami (Forum) show, to “unpack the land issue in KZN, the history of Ingonyama Trust and how communities can be empowered with knowledge on land ownership”. 

The forum allowed political pundits, the public and journalists to question Ngwenya, who answered in rote fashion, aggressively, or not at all. 

 “I don’t want a selective reading [of the AG results],” flared Ngwenya. “[Mnguni] is busy putting words into my mouth. I am saying to you, thank you very much, and I am leaving.” 

The meeting was silent as Ngwenya exited, but then Mgnuni kept going. 

“This is exactly the problem with the Ingonyama Trust,” he said, “leadership not wanting to listen.”

Mnguni earlier said that the auditor-general’s findings indicated “certain deficiencies within the organisation… in internal controls”. 

“It is important that these are fixed, and as I said, I did not say there was evidence of corruption – I said that where you get such types of opinions, it gives the perception that there is not good stewardship over the organisation. That is something that the board, as part of its fiduciary duty, has to attend to,” he said. 

The trust has received adverse audit findings for two consecutive years, with not one clean audit. It has defended this by questioning how the auditing is done – claiming that only certain amounts should come under scrutiny. 

Ngwenya started his presentation by saying that although the concept of the Ingonyama Trust was a Western one created during colonisation, it needed to be viewed through a “Zulu lens” if it was to be understood. 

The trust owns slightly under 30% of mostly deep rural land in KwaZulu-Natal, with King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu its sole trustee. The 2,883 million hectares of land is divided according to clans and overseen by traditional leaders. 

An estimated 5.2 million people, from 250 Zulu tribes, live on trust land.

The Ingonyama Trust Board – which Ngwenya was representing at the Monday Zoom session – administers the trust. The trust was legitimised by the Ingonyama Trust Act of 1994, one of the last pieces of legislature enacted by the apartheid government. The board was legitimised in 1997, when the act was amended. 

The way the trust’s money is handled has long been a contentious issue, and has caused vexation even among some usually indifferent parliamentarians. In June, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza held a meeting with the board in which it presented its revised budget for the current financial year, updates on operational issues, and litigation.  

According to pundits and players, the act was a honey pot to get the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to take part in SA’s first democratic elections because then-IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi – who also headed the KwaZulu government – was seeking a more federal arrangement. 

Buthelezi has denied this, but has publicly questioned the ANC-led government’s ability to manage any land. The trust has come under intense public scrutiny since the release of the High-Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change report.

Led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, the panel recommended the Ingonyama Trust Act be “repealed or substantially amended to protect existing customary land rights”. 

Bantustan boundaries, alive and well in modern South Africa

An advisory panel report found much the same, recommending that trust land be handed to the government via land boards, and that right to tenure was ensured. Zwelithini called the recommendations a “provocation” and a “call to war”. 

The trust – which has a budget of R100-million, the government’s contribution being R22.5-million – is embroiled in a legal battle over its making compulsory the signing of long-term lease agreements for residents who have lived on the communal land with permission to occupy (PTO) certificates. This has brought into question security of tenure for rural dwellers, who can have their leases terminated by the trust should they not obey. 

The applicant in the court case is the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), on behalf of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) and seven informal land rights holders. See some of what has transpired here: 

The great trial dodge: Ingonyama Trust and the price of a date deferred

 

The matter was meant to resume in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in March, but was postponed due to the coronavirus lockdown. 

Mnguni told the Zoom meeting that it appeared the board was opposed to parliamentarians doing their work. 

“[If] it is not the duty of the board to ensure security of tenure, it is also equally not the duty of the board to impede parliamentarians conducting their work if they so believe that [the act] should be annulled or significantly amended,” he said. 

Mnguni said a study he did in 2019 in 10 rural KZN towns, yet to be released, found that people did not trust traditional leaders, worried about land security, and believed there was corruption in the system. 

The way the trust’s money is handled has long been a contentious issue, and has caused vexation even among some usually indifferent parliamentarians. In June, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza held a meeting with the board in which it presented its revised budget for the current financial year, updates on operational issues, and litigation.  

Didiza called the meeting after Parliament’s Land Reform and Rural Development Committee in May called for the suspension of the 2020/2021 funds for the trust. The committee said at the time that it made the recommendation because there was “no clear programme to deal with the empowerment of youth, women and people with disabilities in the rural communities, in line with the purpose of the board, which is the management of the trust for the material well-being of traditional communities on trust land”. 

Ngwenya told the Zoom meeting that the trust’s detractors conflated the role of the traditional councils – which administered the land on a day-to-day basis – with the role of the trust, which led to the board being “accused of not doing things various individuals hope will be done”. 

“Our mandate is sourced from Ingonyama Trust Act,” he declared. The trust only got involved in the administration of the land when “credible documents were needed for financial institutions”. 

Mnguni said a study he did in 2019 in 10 rural KZN towns, yet to be released, found that people did not trust traditional leaders, worried about land security, and believed there was corruption in the system. 

The Ingonyama Trust is separate from the KwaZulu-Natal Royal Household Trust, which is receiving R71.3-million from the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government for the 2020/21 financial year. DM

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