Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi
The question of the Ingonyama Trust has finally been answered. On July 6, President Cyril Ramaphosa met His Majesty the King and I, and assurances were given that neither the ruling party nor government intended to take communal land away from the administration of the trust.

This ends months of ambiguous statements, untoward silence and even insults against traditional leaders by the ruling party, as the call to scrap the Ingonyama Trust Act entered the national dialogue.

I am grateful for the president’s assurances. They come in the wake of an imbizo of the Zulu nation called by the king on July 4, on the anniversary of the 1879 Battle of Ulundi.

As traditional prime minister to the Zulu monarch and nation, I spoke during the imbizo, saying the government could not shy away from explaining itself. Until the president himself spoke to us, uncertainty would remain.

There has been criticism of the president since he met the king. One newspaper accused him of kowtowing to the king’s “blackmail”. But both the king and I made it clear that we were not beating the drums of war. What follows is a small part of what I said.

As a nation we take pride in the fact that our monarch reigns in a time of peace. We do not want war, violence or bloodshed. What we want is to have our legitimate right to our land respected. We want the government to acknowledge that our king has authority over the land, that traditional leaders have delegated authority to administer the land, and that an attempt by the state to expropriate our land is not only unconstitutional, but against natural justice.

The constitution can be changed. Legislation can be amended. But that would not make the expropriation of our land right, acceptable or morally justified. Our identity is tied to the land. To remove our land from the custodianship of the king is to rip the soul from the Zulu nation.

Generations of colonial conquest and racial dispossessions left the Zulu nation with bits and pieces of its original land. In 1994, as we stood on the threshold of democracy, all of this land ownership was set to automatically transfer to the state, for it was not privately owned, but rather communal land administered under indigenous and customary law.

As the chief minister of the KwaZulu government, I therefore tabled in the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly draft legislation to place all this land in a trust under the custodianship of the king, so that it could remain as communal land administered under indigenous and customary law.

The bill went through every stage of the legislative process, in broad daylight and under full media scrutiny. It was published in the Government Gazette and was even given personally to several leaders of the ANC at the Skukuza Summit, so that they would be aware of it.

The KwaZulu Legislative Assembly was well within its rights to enact such legislation and it neither needed nor asked for permission from the apartheid government. The Ingonyama Trust Act was the last piece of legislation enacted by the KwaZulu government. A few days later, the first democratic elections were held, and the land belonging to the Zulu nation remained under the authority of the Zulu monarch.

Three years later, the act was comprehensively debated in the legislature and Parliament. It underwent several amendments, to the full satisfaction of every party. No one disputed that the king holds authority over the land, or that the king should hold this authority.

The act has been legitimately in place for 24 years.

The sudden call from the High Level Panel to scrap it involves transferring the land of the Zulu nation to the government, to be administered not by amakhosi, but by the minister of rural development and land reform. Our king would be stripped of his authority and prevented from exercising his royal duty as custodian of the land.

He would effectively be reduced to a ceremonial figure within a kingdom that is no longer a kingdom.

The panel’s report was preceded by the ANC’s 5th national policy conference last July, where it was noted that “ the KZN ANC has been moving for the repeal of Ingonyama Trust”.

Chaired by the ANC’s former secretary-general and former head of state, the panel never bothered to engage with the Ingonyama Trust Board, with His Majesty the King, with the National House of Traditional Leaders, with the Provincial Houses or even with Contralesa.

Once its far-reaching recommendations were made, it turned down an invitation to speak to amakhosi.

* Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP, is the traditional prime minister of the Zulu monarch and nation, Inkosi of the Buthelezi clan and president of the IFP.