As KwaZulu-Natal’s traditional leaders met this week to oppose the transfer of three-million hectares of tribal land controlled by the Ingonyama Trust to the state, a South Coast community was challenging the trust to stop its efforts to force them to sign leases for their ancestral land.

The residents, from the Umnini area south of Durban, are also preparing to go to the high court to stop the local inkosi from selling and leasing land to businesses and wealthy individuals building holiday homes in the area. The Umgababa beach resort, the only black holiday resort on the South Coast during apartheid, is located in the church reserve the amaThuli clan has held the rights to for several hundred years.

The members of the clan currently hold permission certificates to occupy their land, which falls under the Umnini Trust, proclaimed in 1858.
The land was transferred into the control of the Ingonyama Trust in the 1990s, with residents being granted the permission to occupy it.

In December, Legal Resources Centre lawyer Thabiso Mbhense wrote to Ingonyama Trust board chairperson Judge Jerome Ngwenya, instructing the trust to stop pressuring residents to convert their permissions to occupy to leases.

In the letter, Mbhense said the Ingonyama Trust’s board had attempted to “persuade” residents to “upgrade” their permissions to occupy to leases, a move that would prejudice them and strip them of their land rights by effectively making them tenants.

Mbhense said the Ingonyama Trust board’s programme, launched in November to convince occupants of the land to sign leases, should stop as it was undermining their rights.

He said under the trust’s system, residents would be forced to pay rent on land they currently occupied for free. They would also have to pay 10% annual increases and would have to pay for permission to make any upgrades to their properties. If they defaulted on payments, they stood to lose their land.

Mbhense gave Ngwenya 10 days to stop the conversion campaign and to offer residents the right to reverse existing conversions with no prejudice to them — or face court action.

In a separate letter to the local inkosi, Phathisizwe Luthuli, Mbhense said residents wanted the leader to stop selling and leasing land to developers.

In the letter, Mbhense said Luthuli had been selling and leasing plots in the area illegally, as the land belonged to the community. He gave Luthuli until the end of November 2017 to provide a written undertaking that he would stop doing so, cancel existing agreements and evict unlawful tenants and owners.

Mbhense told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that Umnini residents were preparing to go to court.

Ngwenya did not respond to SMS messages and calls. Attempts to contact Inkosi Luthuli had been unsuccessful at the time of writing.

On Wednesday and Thursday, several hundred of the province’s amakhosi gathered at the Durban International Convention Centre for a meeting convened by the Ingonyama Trust to discuss the report of the high-level panel on accelerating transformation.

The panel recommended repealing the Ingonyama Trust Act, passed on the eve of the 1994 elections to appease the Inkatha Freedom Party and King Goodwill Zwelithini, who had refused to participate in the elections until the province’s tribal land was transferred under his control.

If the recommendation is accepted, it would mean that the Ingonyama Trust, which takes in about R90‑million a year in leases from businesses and service providers, would be collapsed. The land, and the trust’s assets, would be transferred into government control.

On Tuesday, outgoing IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi added his voice to the opposition to the panel’s recommendations. Over the weekend, King Zwelithini did the same, threatening chaos if government took control of the land.

Buthelezi, who signed off on the Ingonyama Trust Act as the then KwaZulu-Natal Bantustan chief minister, said the panel’s recommendations echoed the ANC’s desire to close down the Ingonyama Trust board and take control of the land.

The governing party’s December conference resolved to dissolve the Ingonyama Trust board and move the land it controls to the government as part of its programme of radical economic transformation. The move places the ANC on a collision course with the monarch and the amakhosi, who have supported the ANC since it took power in the province away from the IFP.

Last week the Mail & Guardian reported that the Bayede newspaper is partially funded by the Ingonyama Trust. This is not correct. We apologise for the error.