South Africa

PROPERTY WRANGLE

Court stops AmaQadi chief from selling disputed KZN land

Court stops AmaQadi chief from selling disputed KZN land
Big houses have been built on disputed farmland near Verulam, north of Durban. (Photo: by Phumlani Thabethe)

Farmers north of Durban have been in court to dispute the right of the AmaQadi clan to sell and allocate land the farmers say belongs to them. Some dwellers have built luxurious, palatial homes — including a three-star hotel — on the land. Now the court has ruled in favour of the farmers, ordering a halt to the sale or allocation of land by Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo.

The epic legal battle between Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo, the chief of the AmaQadi clan, and Indian farmers belonging to the Tea Estate Farming Association over a vast tract of land in KwaZulu-Natal has changed gear.

The association took Ngcobo to the Durban High Court, seeking an order to stop him and his iziNduna (headmen) from dividing up and selling land that association members and other Indian farmers claim they have title deeds to, proving that the land is theirs.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “KZN landowners claim ‘thousands’ of homes built on farmland, enabled by AmaQadi chief land invasions

On Friday, 16 September, Judge Elijah Nkosi awarded a final order stopping Ngcobo from selling the land or allocating it to people. Luxurious and palatial homes as well as a three-star hotel have already been built on the disputed land.

amaqadi chief disputed land

Buildings on disputed farmland near Verulam, north of Durban. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

Ngcobo met his lawyers on Tuesday, 27 September, to instruct them to appeal against the final order. His lawyers say they will file court papers before the deadline of 15 working days — Friday, 7 October.

The disputed land comprises farms that have been carved up, sold, cleared and built on. It includes areas in Tea Estate near Inanda, eTafuleni, Hazelmere, Redcliffe, New Glasgow, eMdloti and Nonoti, as well as land on the outskirts of Verulam and Ottawa. The area is only 36km from Durban’s CBD, 19km from King Shaka International Airport and a short drive from Gateway Mall in Umhlanga. 

The farmers sought a final interdict to prevent Ngcobo or his iziNduna from inciting people to “invade, carve, fence, erect structures” such as houses on the land. In court papers, they contend that people occupying the land had said they paid between R20,000 and R50,000 to iziNduna of Ngcobo.

 

amaqadi chief disputed land

Plots have been laid out and big houses built on the disputed farmland. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

Ngcobo claims the disputed land, along with land in Ndwedwe, Ballito and Umhlanga, has been part of the AmaQadi clan land for centuries. He disputes the Tea Estate farmers’ contention that their title deeds are proof that their families bought the land more than 100 years ago. The farmers say they have been paying rates and fees for other municipal services.

Yaga Govender, the chairperson of the Tea Estate Farming Association and one of the 11 applicants listed in the court papers, said the judgment was a “huge victory” for the farmers and their families.

He said his family owns 10ha of land in Tea Estate, part of which is rented to professional farmers. Govender said land invasions began in 2016 and farmers had opened between 70 and 80 cases of land invasion, intimidation and other alleged crimes perpetrated by the invaders. Police, however, had failed to act on these cases, he said.

“The case has cost us more than R600,000 going from one court to another. The final order states that all the structures that have been built on our land should be demolished. I don’t know whether that will be possible as some people have built palatial homes on our land.

Farmworker Thembi Mbanjwa, 53, works on one of the farms on disputed land near Verulam. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

“We warned the eThekwini Municipality when the invasions were still taking place. But instead of assisting us, the municipality went ahead and built [a] linking road illegally on our land. It also started electrifying and installing piped water and sanitation on this land. Our next step now is to sue the eThekwini Municipality,” Govender said.

Other farmers said invoking the court interdict could risk total war. Willie Naicker, chairperson of the Umdloti Farmers’ Association and one of the litigants, said: “We knew that, inevitably, we would win this case because we have all the documentary proof to [support] our claim. On the other hand, Inkosi Ngcobo was asked by the court to show proof to his claim and he failed to do so.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

“There is no way that so many beautiful properties [can] easily be demolished. That is why we have not asked for the immediate invocation of this order. We hope that the government of the day will come to the party and see to it that this matter is resolved in an amicable manner, without it leading to tensions and even bloodshed,” Naiker said.

Daily Maverick attempted to speak to Ngcobo several times this week, but was unsuccessful as he was apparently busy addressing matters at the AmaQadi Traditional Council Court.

Marco Mthembu, one of Ngcobo’s close advisers, said the ruling was a big blow to the inkosi and the AmaQadi clan, but they would not be taking it lying down.

“Inkosi was briefed by his lawyers about this matter and one of the briefings took place on Tuesday this week. He has indicated that there is no way he can relinquish the land of his people so easily. So, this is far from over, Mthembu said.

Ngcobo has previously maintained that they had lodged claims for all AmaQadi clan land that was annexed during the colonial and apartheid eras — including the disputed land. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, however, has said it has no record of the claims by Ngcobo or anyone else from the AmaQadi Tribal Authority.

amaqadi chief disputed land

Plots have been laid out and big houses built on the disputed farmland near Verulam, north of Durban. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

Department spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo said: “They have to bring the proof that they have lodged the claim. If not, they will have to lodge a claim and the government, at the appropriate time, will research if the claim is valid and begin engaging with the [current] owner and start negotiations to see whether the land is restorable or [whether] the claimant will be awarded an alternative of equal size or value.

“There is [the] option of financial compensation. But there is a court judgment that prevents the government from opening and working on new claims until all the current claims have been settled,” he said.

eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela was adamant that this was a court matter between the two parties and that the city would await the court as the final arbiter.

When Daily Maverick briefly visited the disputed land on Thursday, 29 September, many of the new homeowners said they were not aware of the legal tussle under way in the Durban High Court.

At one of the new plots, workers were laying the foundation of what seemed to be a big house.

One of the residents, who asked not to be named, said they knew nothing about what was going on in court: “I bought this land and built my home here and no one can come and take it all away from me and my family.” DM

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