Should the Zulu king get rent for his trust land? Let the court decide
Several outraged groups have served him with papers over Ingoyama Trust Board's change of policy
The Ingoyama Trust Board has vowed to fight a court application that aims to compel it to stop forcing occupiers of land that falls under the trust to pay rent.
The application was filed in the Pietermaritzburg High Court this week by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) on behalf of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), the Rural Women’s Movement and seven informal land rights holders. They are challenging the conversion of Permission to Occupy (PTO), or informal land rights, to long-term lease agreements.
The envisaged lease agreements would be for a 40-year period and could cost the occupier between R1,500 and R7,000, depending on the size of the plot of land.
In November the trust published adverts in various newspapers in KwaZulu-Natal inviting holders of PTOs to approach the board “with a view to upgrading these PTOs into long-term leases in line with the Ingonyama Trust tenure policy”.
But the LRC was vehemently opposed to the proposal and vowed to prepare a high court application in which they would ask for an order demanding that the trust withdraw the advertisements, which were asking people to surrender their land.
In court papers filed on Tuesday, the applicants argue that the trust and the board have been undermining the security of tenure of residents and occupiers of trust-held land and are “extorting money from them by unlawfully compelling them to conclude lease agreements and pay rental to the trust to continue living on the land”.
They accuse the trust and the board of “violating customary law” and of assuming and exercising “land administration powers that they do not have”. These powers, they insist, are vested in the minister of rural development and land affairs, and the KZN cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC.
“The personal accounts of the third to ninth respondents, and the records of the land leased out by the trust for residential purposes, demonstrate that these violations are serious, widespread and systemic. These lease agreements impose serious burdens on the residents and occupiers of trust-held land, many of whom are impoverished and cannot afford to pay rental demanded of them,” said the court papers.
The applicants are seeking orders to declare the conduct of the trust and the board “unlawful and constitutionally invalid” and to establish a process for residents and occupiers of residential or arable land to cancel their lease agreements and to recover any money they paid to the trust or board as per the lease agreements.
They also want the order to declare that the minister of rural development and land affairs has “failed in her constitutional obligations to oversee the administration of the trust-held land and the activities of the board”.
But the trust’s board chairperson, Judge Jerome Ngwenya, told TimesSelect on Wednesday that he was not aware of the court papers filed against the trust and the board.
“We are not aware of any case against Ingonyama Trust. Neither have we been served with any papers. We shall respond as we get served but certainly will strenuously defend any action against the trust,” said Ngwenya.
The trust, which administers 2.8 million hectares of land on behalf of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini as the sole trustee‚ was established in 1994 to be the custodian of the land previously administered by the KwaZulu-Natal government.
In November, an independent high-level panel, headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, released a report recommending that the Ingonyama Trust Act be repealed or amended and that the trust be dissolved.
The panel said the Ingonyama Trust Board had control over land in ways that “far surpass anything the minister of rural development and land reform has in all other provinces”.
The trust, which received an adverse opinion from the auditor-general for failing to prepare its financial statements in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act, generated R96m in rental income from lease agreements in the 2015/16 period.
Its financial results showed an increase of 14.31% in total revenue attributable to lease and investment income. The trust leases its land to mining and prospecting operators.
But Motlanthe’s panel said there was little evidence that the revenue generated by leases was used for the benefit of communities or their material wellbeing, although the trust has built up very substantial reserves.
Last month, the auditor-general took issue with the Ingonyama Trust Board for failing to provide supporting documents to account for land to the value of R1.08bn.
However, King Zwelithini has vowed to oppose any attempts to dissolve the trust, forcing President Cyril Ramaphosa to bow to pressure by assuring him that the ANC government has no intention of expropriating land under the control of the trust.
In February, the monarch called on all Zulus to donate R5 each for the fight against the proposed dissolution of the trust, and vowed that Zulus will never allow their land to be taken away from them – and that they will be prepared to die for the land.
“Land cannot be removed from the traditional leadership. In fact‚ the land is like the soul of the body of traditional leadership. We will never allow‚ not for one day‚ that we be killed by taking our soul.
“Just like Jerusalem is important to Israel and Palestine‚ and just like Mecca is important to the Muslims‚ the land under Ingonyama Trust is also important to us.”