King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: THE TIMES
King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: THE TIMES

Cosatu in KwaZulu-Natal has accused Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini of hogging tracts of land through the controversial Ingonyama Trust, saying that it could be developed and used to free the poor from poverty.

The union federation is calling for a "frank and constructive engagement" over the composition and role of the Ingonyama Trust and how the land it controls can be utilised to benefit the poor.

The Ingonyama Trust was established on the eve of the 1994 political transition as a special vehicle under the Zulu king. The trust owns 29.67% of the land in KwaZulu-Natal, equivalent to 28,000km².

Zwelithini has vented his anger at suggestions of a review of the Ingonyama Trust’s status. Last week, he called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to present himself to explain his government’s stance on various issues, including the trust.

The call for a review of the Ingonyama Trust first came from a high-level panel led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, which recommended that Parliament scrap the law allowing the trust to control land in KwaZulu-Natal.

Zwelithini said anyone who touched the Ingonyama Trust was declaring war against the Zulu nation. He called on every Zulu to donate R5 towards a fund to take on the government on this issue.

Now Cosatu has entered the fray. Its leader in KwaZulu-Natal, Edwin Mkhize, said delegates at the federation’s recent provincial congress resolved that there must be no sacred cows when it comes to giving land to the poor.

He said the federation fully supported the expropriation of land without compensation but also wanted to see wholesale reform and changes to the status quo on the land under the Ingonyama Trust.

"Cosatu, in principle supports the introduction of communal land reform, which in our view should contain the mechanisms to ensure the democratisation of the allocation of land rights at community levels, including the functioning of traditional leadership. This includes ensuring the protection of the rights of women especially those who are heads of households.

"When you come to KwaZulu-Natal, you cannot talk about land without touching the issue of Ingonyama Trust. We know this is a very sensitive issue but our provincial congress has mandated the leadership to focus on the land debate.

"We have got to look at all the dynamics, like what does it means for people who live in areas under Ingonyama Trust, what is their protection. You could live on land and develop it over a period of many years and an induna would come and say move and kick you out. What would be your protection?" Mkhize asked.

The April edition of the African Communist, the SACP’s mouthpiece, contains a paper by left-wing academics Prof Jabulani Sithole and Percy Ngonyama, in which they argue that the king and other traditional leaders and their supporters were wrong in preventing discussion on how the land under the trust could be better utilised to benefit the poor.

The paper argues that political leaders should not kow-tow to the Zulu king but should instead ask critical questions on how the land under the Ingonyama Trust had been neglected and allowed to contribute nothing to the upliftment of the poor, rural people, despite its vast potential.

"The amakhosi in KwaZulu-Natal in general, and the Zulu king in particular, have threatened to call on their subjects to take up arms to defend land under the Ingonyama Trust if the need arose. There are flaws in the emotional response of the main supporters of the Ingonyama Trust land arrangement.

"This line of argument ignores the fact that what is regarded as customary law has not been immune to contamination by the expedient political consideration of successive colonial and apartheid administration since the mid-19th century in what is now KwaZulu-Natal," the paper says.

Prince Thulani Zulu, spokesperson for the Zulu king, said on Wednesday that Zwelithini would not entertain comments from people seeking media attention and headlines.

"As far as issues concerning Ingonyama Trust is concerned, I think the questions should be directed at the board [of the trust]. … If people have any issue with what the king has articulated, they must formally approach and engage him through the correct channels. Until they do that we will not comment on these statement because doing so would be a waste of time and effort," said Prince Zulu.