Churches join

The trust board wants peo­ple to con­vert per­mits into leases, in­creas­ing their ten­ure in­se­cu­rity

Mail & Guardian - - News - Paddy Harper

KwaZulu-Natal church lead­ers have joined a high court chal­lenge by in­di­vid­u­als and civil so­ci­ety groups to force the In­gonyama Trust board to aban­don its con­tro­ver­sial pro­gramme of con­vert­ing per­mis­sion to oc­cupy (PTO) cer­tifi­cates into res­i­den­tial leases.

The KwaZulu-Natal Coun­cil of Churches, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church have backed the ap­pli­ca­tion, which will be brought by the Le­gal Re­sources Cen­tre in the high court in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg this month.

Crit­ics of the leases say they un­der­mine right of ten­ure rather than re­in­force it, and place ru­ral peo­ple who have lived on the trib­ally con­trolled land for free for years in a po­si­tion where they have to pay an­nu­ally — or face evic­tion.

Thabiso Mb­hense, the lawyer for the ap­pli­cants, said the ap­pli­ca­tion by res­i­dents of Jozini and uMnini, both of which fall un­der the In­gonyama Trust, which con­trols about three mil­lion hectares of ru­ral KwaZulu-Natal on be­half of King Good­will Zwelithini, would be brought in the next few weeks.

“The fi­nal af­fi­davits are drafted and we are fi­nal­is­ing court pa­pers and pre­par­ing to lodge the ap­pli­ca­tion,’’ Mb­hense said.

The ap­pli­cants want the court to rule the prac­tice of con­vert­ing PTO cer­tifi­cates to leases, which the board be­gan last year, as il­le­gal, on the grounds that it un­der­mines and weak­ens the right of ten­ure of ru­ral peo­ple liv­ing on trust land.

They will ar­gue that the con­ver­sion to leases, which come with de­fault clauses, places res­i­dents in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion, be­cause the board could re­pos­sess their prop­er­ties if they fail to pay the an­nual lease fee.

The board, chaired by for­mer judge Jerome Ng­wenya, started the con­ver­sions in 2016, ar­gu­ing that it was do­ing so to al­low govern­ment em­ploy­ees liv­ing on tribal land to qual­ify for hous­ing sub­si­dies. It has since been in­structed to stop do­ing so by Par­lia­ment’s land re­form port­fo­lio com­mit­tee, which holds over­sight on the board. But, ac­cord­ing to sources on the board, it has con­tin­ued to is­sue the leases.

The board col­lects about R90mil­lion a year in leases, many of them com­mer­cial, and has now shifted its fo­cus to res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties. It is also en­cour­ag­ing non­profit bod­ies such as churches to con­vert their PTOs to leases.

Res­i­dents pay a nom­i­nal fee of R500 or more for land to the tra­di­tional au­thor­ity. If they con­vert to leases, it will cost about R1 000 or more a year.

The board leases also state that any de­vel­op­ments made by the oc­cu­pants are for­feited to the trust should they leave or de­fault.

The board was re­cently at the cen­tre of a po­lit­i­cal storm about the land re­form process, with ANC pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa go­ing to great lengths to re­as­sure the king that

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