King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

The government has been handed a political hot potato by the presidential expert advisory panel on land and agrarian reform, which has recommended that the Ingonyama Trust Act either be reviewed or repealed. 

Controversies around the Ingonyama Trust flared up after land expropriation without compensation became a policy position of the governing ANC. Senior ANC leaders were at pains to stress that land under the custodianship of traditional leaders was safe. 

The Ingonyama Trust was established in 1994 to be the custodian of land that was previously administered by the KwaZulu-Natal government. It comprises 29.67% of the land in the province.

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

King Goodwill Zwelithini has previously said anyone who touched the Ingonyama Trust was declaring war against the Zulu nation. Zwelithini, who is the sole trustee, then called on every Zulu to donate money towards a fund to challenge the government on this issue.

On Sunday the panel, which started its work in 2018, released its report and recommendations on a wide variety of issues relating to land and agrarian reform. 

It dealt specifically with the trust and said the legislation around it should have been the subject of consultation between the national and provincial government and traditional authorities. 

The report said the intention of the trust was to create a mechanism to preserve tribal interests in the land, and there was no intention to give the Ingonyama Trust Board the powers of government. 

The panel said deficiencies in the current structure did not allow for the democratic expression of the will of the people living on trust land. The report said there were many instances of a lack of public accountability by the board regarding the finances of the trust and the top-down imposition of a lease system on land already owned by the people. The panel said the government should act “immediately and decisively” to facilitate equitable access to land.  

The panel therefore recommended that the Ingonyama Trust Act be reviewed or possibly repealed, as the “act has perpetuated the existence of KwaZulu-Natal as a homeland within a unitary state 25 years into a new democratic order”.

It was further recommended, in terms of the administration of the land, that the government should immediately assume responsibility and custodianship of the trust land and administer it on behalf of its citizens. 

“This can be realised through appropriately constituted land boards. This will ensure that the administration of this land is brought in line with the land administration in the rest of the country,” the panel recommended. 

The third recommendation was that secure tenure rights had to be granted, as African people had a long history of “using their land to take care of their needs”.

Rural development and land reform minister Thoko Didiza said the government would reflect on the recommendations and “will make its pronouncement in that regard”. 

The government is under no obligation to implement the recommendations of the advisory panel.