Mixing expropriation with Ingonyama is mischievous

A field of maize.
A field of maize.
Image: Thinkstock

Among assertions made at the recent ANC land summit, it seems the one issue that has permeated media analysis is the misinterpretation of former president Kgalema Motlanthe's statement that most traditional leaders act as tin-pot dictators.

The statement predictably enraged many traditional leaders, but it should be seen in the context of the heated land debate as caution to guard against the abuse of power.

"Some traditional leaders support the ANC, but the majority of them are acting like village tinpot dictators to the people there.

"The people had high hopes the ANC would liberate them from these confines of the homeland systems, but clearly we are the ones who are saying the land must go to traditional leaders and not the people," the Sowetan quoted Motlanthe as saying.

The implication that Motlanthe disrespects all traditional leaders is misinformed. As the chair of the high level panel, the former president did hear first-hand information from rural citizens about the injustices they experience.

Traditional leaders, especially in KZN, are conflating Motlanthe's concern and what the panel said about the abuse of customary authority with the proposed amendment of the Constitution to enable expropriation without compensation, in an apparent attempt to justify a fight against a government they allege is bent on dispossessing chiefs of their land.

In terms of the Ingonyama Trust Act, the detailed recommendations found in the 600-page high level panel report suggest that it be repealed or extensively amended to give communities control of the land they occupy.

Parliament's portfolio committee on rural development and land reform has tried over several years to get the board of the trust to account for the R20-million it receives from the government and for its other income. While the board continues to complain that the annual grant is inadequate, its report to the committee in May showed it had underperformed at every stipulated activity in support of ordinary people.

The question remains, if you have not met the targets, but money is still being spent, where is it going?

The portfolio committee also has expressed concern about the security of tenure of rural citizens.

The Ingonyama Trust board has been asked to explain adverts encouraging rural citizens to apply for leases on land they already own, both according to customary law and through official recognition in the form of permission-to-occupy certificates.

Despite an order to stop issuing residential leases to people with ownership rights, the board continued to promote the conversion, causing one committee member, Mamagase Nchabeleng, to suggest that the ITB should be placed under administration.

This would allow the government to ensure that the trust is administered for the benefit of the people and not only the trustee.

But as we have seen many times, the ANC-led government always puts the needs of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini ahead of those of rural citizens.

The two separate issues of the problems with the Trust and the later debate about 'expropriation without compensation' have been disingenuously amalgamated into one to create confusion and fear.

Currently, public hearings are being held to establish whether South Africans support amending the Constitution. This issue has nothing to do with the panel recommendations about legislative changes to the Ingonyama Trust Act. The panel was created to examine whether the laws established post 1994 had been effective in making a difference in people's lives. This process started in 2015 and only last year was the report handed over to Baleka Mbete, the speaker of parliament.

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