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Ingonyama Trust’s rent-seeking declared unlawful by high court

A woman in the village of Emahubhu in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. (Photo: Daniele Codegoni)

The High Court in Pietermaritzburg ruled on Friday that the Ingonyama Trust’s literal rent-seeking policy of forcing people to sign leases to live on their ancestral land was unlawful and ordered the trust to pay back the money. It’s a victory for good governance and a blow against one of feudalism’s lingering footholds in the 21st century. 

The unanimous decision is a vindication of the findings of the high-level panel into land reform, chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe in 2017, which raised questions about the legality of the trust’s lease arrangements while noting that the revenue raised appeared to do little to benefit the wider community. Millions of people reside on the trust’s lands, which are spread across 30% of KwaZulu-Natal. Applicants in the case included the Rural Women’s Movement and several mostly elderly women residing on trust land who felt their rights were being trampled upon.

“It is declared that … (the trust and the board) acted unlawfully and in violation of the Constitution by concluding residential lease arrangements with persons living on the land held in trust by the Ingonyama who are the true and beneficial owners of trust-held land under Zulu customary law,” the judgment reads.

“… the trust is obliged forthwith to refund any and all money paid to the trust and the board  under the lease agreements,” it rules. That might not be so easy as much of that money has probably already been spent and the trust’s audits are always “qualified”.

The court also found that Thoko Didiza, the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development had “breached her duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the constitutional right to property of the holders of IPILRA [Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act] rights.”

The minister must also report to the court every three months to provide an update on what is being done to protect people’s land rights and security of tenure.

“This ruling vindicates that the people living on the trust land are the owners of that land and cannot be made into tenants by the trust. Its attempts to downgrade them from owners into tenants was unlawful,” Aninka Claassens, chief researcher at UCT’s Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC), told Business Maverick.

The ruling could have implications for South Africa’s other former homelands, apartheid relics of rural poverty where security of property tenure remains tenuous, hampering agriculture and other development. There could also be political consequences as the ANC has courted traditional leaders as a core base of electoral support.

And it comes at a troubled time for the trust, with its staff reportedly preparing to go on strike and amid contestation for the Zulu throne claimed by King Misuzulu in the wake of the death of King Goodwill Zwelithini. The Zulu monarch is the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust. Its feudal-like arrangements may not prove to be such a cash cow anymore, lowering the stakes in this unfolding Game of Thrones. DM/BM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mary Hammond-Tooke says:

    Thank you for the years of dedicated work Aninka Claassens!!!!

  • David Hill says:

    I sincerely hope not, but here begins “Stalingrad ‘n'” with appeals to Supreme Court of Appeal followed by Constitutional Court. Time and wasted money (for the Applicants), with some perhaps not living to see the end of it. Very sad. A completely anachronistic Trust that, correctly, must be dismantled.

    • Trevor Pope says:

      A very welcome decision. I hope they now attach the bank accounts and assets to prevent the remaining funds from being dissipated in a drawn out legal fight. The king and chiefs must fund that out their own pockets.

      • Jane Crankshaw says:

        Absolutely….the banks have the power to change and charge political corruption and now need to do the right thing! Follow the money ……just do it!

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    The article does not emphasise enough the enormity of this crime that the Zulu King perpetrated on his “subjects”. The Trust, whose sole Trustee is the King, misrepresentated itself as the owner of the land to the millions of undeveloped and uneducated people who live on traditionally communal land and tricked them into signing leases which not only had them paying rent but providing for eviction in the event they defaulted, thereby losing their rights of tenure on land they collectively owned. A disgraceful scam and abuse of power by His Royal Crookedness. This is not a small matter to be resolved by repaying the money (good luck with that and where would it come from) but is fraud and extortion which should be criminally prosecuted. It is not only the Ingonyama Trust that should be desolved but the whole crooked enterprise of traditional leaders bribed and sucked up to by the ANC ( courtesy of course of the tax payers) , who as usual don’t give a monkey’s for their serfs as long as they get the votes guaranteed by the “kings”.

    • Wendy Dewberry says:

      Thanks Sydney for that insightful description of the systemic nature of this feudalism. Not only does the poor have to struggle global capital inequity, but local oppression too. May the land laws continue to be improved by our good leaders and enforced.

  • MIKE WEBB says:

    Heard yesterday that we now have a NEW king in the Eastern Cape. How many kings doe we have now? 14, 15, 16? I like the “user pay” principle and all Zulus must pay for their own king, and the same for all the others. Not all taxpayers paying. Anyway, I see no need for these kings. If you really want to get rid of Colonialism, then close them all down. They are a leftover of White conquest in the 18th century.

  • Evert de Jongh says:

    I’m not well-versed in this subject, so can someone please clarify to me: Does this mean that the Ingonyama Trust can’t charge their “tenants” rent anymore? Or does this mean that all tenants become joint-owners of the land owned by the Ingonyama Trust?

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