IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who is traditional prime minister to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and the Zulu nation. File photo: ANA/Sibonelo Ngcobo.

DURBAN – Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi has questioned government’s ability to manage Ingonyama Trust land, should it adopt the recommendations made in the recently released land reform report.

“There is no reason to believe that government is better suited to be a custodian of the trust land than his majesty the king,” said Buthelezi, who is traditional prime minister to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and the Zulu nation.

Buthelezi was responding to a request for comment from African News Agency (ANA) on the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture, which was made public last Sunday.

Buthelezi is not alone in his opinion on the state’s ability to govern land. The report itself stated the current land reform programme was “fraught with corruption and inefficiencies”.

Ingonyama Trust land was one of many issues tackled in the report, which will influence decision-making in the state’s drive to expropriate land without compensation.

The trust owns about 30 percent of mostly deep rural land in KwaZulu-Natal. The king is the sole trustee of the land, which is divided according to clans and overseen by traditional leaders. The Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) administers the trust.  

But the future of the trust – legitimised by the Ingonyama Trust Act of 1994 - has come under intense public scrutiny since the release in November last year of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change report, which addressed several legislative issues.

Chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, that panel's report recommended the Ingonyama Trust Act be “repealed or substantially amended to protect existing customary land rights”.

The advisory panel report made the same recommendations, saying the Act should be reviewed or possibly repealed, custodianship of trust land should immediately be handed to government via land boards, and right to tenure should be granted.

The recommendations and criticism in the Motlanthe report caused outrage with the king, Buthelezi, and many of the king's followers. Zwelithini called the report a provocation and call to war. 

The findings in the latest report will no doubt elicit the same reaction.

On Saturday, broadcaster eNCA reported that Zwelithini told his followers he had not been consulted about the report and would give thorough feedback at September’s annual reed dance festival. He reiterated though, that the land had been in the Zulu royal lineage for ages and would not be “taken”.

Buthelezi told ANA, “My feeling is that the advisory panel made the same mistake as the high level panel in failing to consult with or seek the views of the Ingonyama Trust Board or [the king].”

He said that while the country’s Constitution recognised traditional leadership, legislation passed since 1994 had consistently failed to stipulate what the role, powers, and functions of traditional leaders were.

This opened the way “for traditional leaders to be side-lined, ignored, and dictated to when it comes to local government”, said Buthelezi.

The advisory panel report found the trust had a “structural deficiency” that did not allow for the “democratic expression” of those living on its land.

But Buthelezi told ANA that the traditional community was “structured specifically to ensure that the will of the people is expressed and respected, through consultation, participation, and consensus”.

The report also found the trust “unilaterally assumed the role of a landowner by converting the people’s permission to occupy certificates to leases and charging them escalating rentals for occupying the same land on which they had lived for many generations”.

“They now face eviction from the land, in much the same way as in the white privately-owned land, if they fail to pay their rental dues, or are in breach of trust in their relationship with [Ingonyama Trust],” said the report.   

It further stated that there were “many instances of the lack of public accountability by the Ingonyama Trust Board regarding its finances, the top-down imposition of lease system on land that people already own”.

“[The] decay has set in very deep at the ITB and government should act immediately and decisively to facilitate equitable access to land,” said the report.

Buthelezi said the panel’s recommendation that the land be handed to government took it out of the hands of “the people”.

“What is now communally owned by the people will become wholly owned by the government, dispossessing communities of their most valuable asset. Taking the royal nation’s land is like taking its very soul,” said Buthelezi.

Judge Jerome Ngwenya, who chairs the ITB and, like Zwelithini, was out of the country when the report was released, told ANA that he would only comment on the document after studying it, which he hoped to do in the coming week.

African News Agency (ANA)