KZN landowners claim ‘thousands’ of homes built on farmland, enabled by AmaQadi chief land invasions
They say authorities are ignoring a court interdict to prevent the illegal construction. But chief Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo says the land has belonged to the clan for centuries.
A swanky new suburb — complete with luxury mansions and well-manicured lawns — has sprung up in Tea Estate near Inanda, as well as on surrounding sugar cane farms in KwaZulu-Natal over the past few years.
Just like other posh new areas, this one — which is visible from King Shaka International Airport — is attracting new buyers in numbers. There is a scramble for sites, and buildings are going up almost every day.
All seems to be well — except that the land on which these extravagant homes are being built is private property and the luxury homes are being built illegally on farmland.
The landowners, many of whom are Indian small- and medium-sized sugar cane growers, are fighting a losing battle in court.
They are also failing to convince authorities in the eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial government, or the police, that they need help in repelling the determined “invaders”.
The matter is pencilled in to be argued again before the Durban high court on 22 September. The landowners are hoping that the court interdict preventing the land invasion and the construction of homes is made permanent and that the police and other government departments will be legally obliged to enforce it.
Many of the buyers in Tea Estate, a semi-rural area north of Durban, said they were scared to speak on the record, lest they be attacked.
They said they had paid between R20,000 and R50,000 to izinduna (headmen) of Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo, who is the chief of the AmaQadi clan in uMzinyathi and Inanda.
The area, especially Tea Estate, is attractive to buyers as it is only 36km from Durban’s CBD, 19km from King Shaka Airport and a short driving distance from the Gateway Mall in Umhlanga.
One buyer, a 43-year-old man, said he had paid R32,000 for the 40x40m² plot on which he has so far built a two-room outbuilding.
The farms being carved up, sold, cleared and built on are in Tea Estate near Inanda, eTafuleni, Hazelmere, Redcliffe, New Glasgow, eMdloti and Nonoti, as well as on the outskirts of Verulam and Ottawa.
Many of the landowners say they are third-generation owners and their families bought the land more than 100 years ago.
A headman under Ngcobo, who said his surname is Mvubu, did not deny they were selling land, but said “the issue of the land is not talked about over the phone and whoever wants land must come over so that we can talk”.
He added that a buyer should first swear allegiance to the AmaQadi chief, Ngcobo and see the land in question, and then the “financial issues can be discussed”.
The farms being invaded and carved into plots range from a single hectare to 25ha. The landowners say they are paying rates for the land and they have title deeds to prove that the land is theirs.
The landowners say the “land grab” began in 2016 and has been continuing unabated since, despite several court interdicts to stop Ngcobo, his headmen and the invaders from carving up plots of land and selling them to the new buyers.
One landowner, who asked that their name be withheld for fear of being targeted, said their family had papers to prove that they own a 10ha sugarcane farm in Tea Estate. This farm is one of those that has been occupied, divided into plots and sold to buyers who have built luxury houses.
“Generations and generations of my family members have been living and farming this land.
“In the 1980s, when we could no longer farm the land ourselves, we let out [the land to] farmers to put up their crops for a fee,” they said.
In 2016, the farmers told the family that they had been chased off the land and that their crops had been destroyed.
“When we went to the scene to see for ourselves, we were threatened with violence by the invaders and chased away.”
Yaga Govender, the chair of the Tea Estate Landowners’ Association, said his family owns 10ha of land in Tea Estate.
He said the landowners believed that the police and the municipal officials were not enforcing the court interdict because they feared the wrath of Ngcobo.
“We have been fighting this since 2018. There is a great element of fear here… Inkosi Ngcobo is ruling the area with an iron fist and government officials and politicians are scared of him. He has chased police from meetings [and] he has chased politicians from meetings, in our presence.
“We have had no joy from the municipality, the council, the KZN Department of Cooperative and Traditional Affairs [Cogta], the police, the provincial government and even the national government.
“We strongly believe that government officials are working in concert with the land invaders,” he said.
“The eThekwini Municipality has illegally built a tarred road going through our farms. Municipality workers and vehicles have been connecting electricity in the area [and] they have been connecting water to the houses built on illegal land.”
He said an “amicable solution” needed to be found where landowners were compensated and the land invaders were not evicted.
Willie Naicker, the chairperson of the Umdloti Farmers Association and whose family also owns some of the land under invasion, said it was hoped that the upcoming court case would “come to rescue” of the landowners and that the court would compel or penalise the police and other authorities who had failed to prevent the land invasion or enforce the interdict against the invaders.
He said that when the land invasion started, farm owners were threatened and their homes were burnt down or vandalised. Graders then arrived and destroyed sugar cane plantations. Land was divided into plots and the builders started moving in and constructing houses — now there are thousands of these homes, Naicker said.
“I wrote the letter to KZN Police Commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi telling him about the indiscriminate invasion by community members of privately owned farms, regular occurrences of arson and burning of sugar cane crops, damage to sugar cane crops and livestock — cattle are allowed to graze in sugar cane farms freely and unattended.
“We have opened a number of cases and complaints at the Inanda and Verulam police stations, but officers there have not taken any action,” he said.
The eThekwini Municipality has denied all the accusations levelled at it and also denies working with land invaders.
Despite a detailed media query sent to him, all eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela could say was: “The Tea Estate matter is a private legal matter. Therefore we cannot comment on it.
“Regarding the road, this is part of the Low Volume gravel upgrade programme, and has no bearing on the legal matter.”
Ngcobo was apparently admitted to hospital on 6 April.
He has maintained in court papers that the land in question has belonged to the AmaQadi clan for centuries.
Ngcobo has denied that he and headmen, instructed by him, have carved and sold plots on the disputed land. However, he has also said that he has not stopped members of his clan from building houses in the area which, he contends, he is legally claiming from the government.
Marco Msomi, one of Ngcobo’s senior headmen and confidantes, said the land in question had belonged to the AmaQadi clan for centuries. The clan had allowed missionaries to use part of it for their churches and other missionary work.
He said the clan did not recognise or acknowledge the title deeds produced by the area’s landowners.
Msomi said the AmaQadi owned the land from uMzinyathi up to and including Ballito, uMhlanga and Verulam, and they were in the process of claiming it from the government.
“This land was part of the AmaQadi land for centuries, long before these farmers even came here,” he said.
Bhekumuzi Myeni, the lawyer representing Ngcobo and the AmaQadi clan, said: “It is unfortunate that this matter is sub judice and I cannot discuss the merit of the case. But all I can say is that there is a claim by AmaQadi and Inkosi Ngcobo that was lodged and I believe that we have a very strong case.”
Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, said that according to their records, there was no land claim that had been lodged by either Ngcobo or the AmaQadi Tribal Authority.
“We are not aware of a land claim that was lodged by Inkosi Ngcobo, but what will be helpful is to get a reference number from Inkosi in the event that he alleges that he has an unresolved land claim which is currently being processed. In the absence of that, our position is that we are not aware of the alleged land claim.
“The department is not involved in any negotiations to acquire land in order to settle a land claim by Inkosi Ngcobo.
“Land invasions, by law, are the responsibility of the landowner (whoever the landowner may be) to deal with and that includes the landowners who own the land that is [the] subject of your enquiry,” the spokesperson said. DM168
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