Ru­ral women fight for the right to own ‘their’ land

Le­gal bid to stop In­gonyama Trust from ef­fec­tively turn­ing land own­ers into ten­ants

The Mercury - - METRO - NOKWANDA SIHLALI

SOUTH Africa’s con­sti­tu­tional watch­dog, backed by sev­eral brave ru­ral women from KwaZulu-Natal, went to court this week in a bid to stop King Good­will Zwelithini’s In­gonyama Trust turn­ing land own­ers into ten­ants.

The main ob­jec­tive of the case brought by the Coun­cil for the Ad­vance­ment of the South African Constitution (Casac) is to chal­lenge the con­ver­sion of Per­mis­sion to Oc­cupy (PTO) cer­tifi­cates, or in­for­mal land rights, into long-term leases is­sued by the In­gonyama Trust (IT) and In­gonyama Trust Board (ITB).

King Zwelithini is the sole trustee of the In­gonyama Trust and seeks to hold and ad­min­is­ter all the Zulu na­tion’s land on be­half of the peo­ple who live on it.

In a press state­ment re­leased by the Le­gal Re­sources Cen­tre, (LRC), which is act­ing for Casac, the ap­pli­cants ar­gue “that the con­ver­sion of ex­ist­ing land rights into leases will un­der­mine the ten­ure se­cu­rity of the peo­ple af­fected”.

The LRC says that while ex­ist­ing land rights, though in­for­mal, are in­def­i­nite, the leases pro­posed by the In­gonyama Trust are for a fixed pe­riod of time.

And the leases come with obli­ga­tions in­clud­ing an­nual rent, which goes up by 10% a year, a re­quire­ment to fence all land and an obli­ga­tion to ask per­mis­sion from the trust to de­velop land or build­ings.

Any­one who does not pay the rental could lose their land and the im­prove­ments they have made. Most of the in­di­vid­ual ap­pli­cants in the case are women, which sug­gests they have been most ad­versely af­fected by the leases.

For women in par­tic­u­lar, the lease process fur­ther am­pli­fies their alien­ation from their land be­cause the in­ter­nal con­tes­ta­tions of how land is owned, through PTOs or leases, are in part minute pieces of the broader strug­gles of women’s land rights, con­tin­u­ously be­ing marginalised by lo­cal and gov­ern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions.

Ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of gen­der, is pres­sured to ac­cept leases, but the fo­cus on women em­pha­sises that women, who have been deeply “in­vis­i­bilised” from the land con­ver­sa­tion, have emerged as the bravest. The de­ci­sion to par­tic­i­pate in a case in such a volatile prov­ince as KwaZulu-Natal is dan­ger­ous.

One of the ap­pli­cants in the case, Li­nah Nkosi from Jozini, in the north­ern part of KZN, said her rea­son for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the case was to pro­tect her right to the land she farms. She does not want to lose her land be­cause she can­not af­ford to pay the stip­u­lated R1680 an­nual rent, which comes with a 10% an­nual in­crease.

She is un­em­ployed and, with sev­eral mouths to feed in her house­hold, her land is her liveli­hood. She grows veg­eta­bles in her plough­ing field, and as a 62-year-old long-term res­i­dent of her com­mu­nity, she be­lieves that she should not be pay­ing for land where she has un­der­gone cus­tom­ary prac­tices that so­lid­ify that the land be­longs to her.

This ab­ro­ga­tion of women’s land rights is fur­ther high­lighted by the de­sire of the sec­ond in­sti­tu­tional ap­pli­cant to part take in the case.

The Ru­ral Women’s Move­ment (RWM) is a non-profit, grass­roots or­gan­i­sa­tion founded in 1998. It “works to give a voice to ru­ral women in KwaZulu-Natal, and to ad­dress the so­cial prob­lems that ru­ral women face, in­clud­ing ac­cess to land and land own­er­ship”.

A sup­port­ing af­fi­davit by the di­rec­tor of RWM, Sizani Ngubani, pro­vides fur­ther fac­tual and le­gal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the re­lief the ap­pli­cants seek.

She says: “I re­mem­ber a work­shop in the Zu­l­u­land dis­trict in which dif­fer­ent women com­plained of re­ceiv­ing ac­counts for rent they sim­ply could not pay.

“One woman com­plained that the In­gonyama Trust had de­nied her per­mis­sion to build a garage for a car on her own prop­erty now that they held a lease over it. Most of them are strug­gling to make a liv­ing and sim­ply can­not af­ford the rental amounts de­manded.”

The hope for this case is to bring about ac­count­abil­ity for the sys­tem­atic abuse of power and priv­i­lege In­gonyama Trust Board.

The board con­tin­ues to ar­gue that a lease is an “up­grade” of the PTO rights, more con­sis­tent with the cus­tom­ary law rights in land and more eco­nom­i­cally sus­tain­able.

But the ar­gu­ment made by Casac and the women for whom it is act­ing is that leases make ten­ure more vul­ner­a­ble, with con­tin­ued oc­cu­pa­tion largely at the whim of the trust.

Per­haps the board should rather stop vi­o­lat­ing the mora­to­rium im­posed by the Depart­ment of Ru­ral Devel­op­ment and Land Re­form port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on March 7, and stop is­su­ing leases. In­stead, the trust and its chair­per­son, for­mer judge Jerome Ng­wenya, con­tinue to pro­mote leases and to jus­tify the con­ver­sion of PTOs and cus­tom­ary land rights to leases by link­ing the PTOs to apartheid prac­tices of racially based land ten­ure.

The board should be de­vel­op­ing a con­crete and clearly ben­e­fi­cial PTO to lease con­ver­sion pol­icy along­side the depart­ment and as com­pelled by the com­mit­tee on March 7 and fur­ther em­pha­sised on April 18.

It should be hold­ing work­shops that ed­u­cate tra­di­tional lead­ers and tra­di­tional com­mu­ni­ties about land rights, land man­age­ment and land own­er­ship.

The ITB should shift its re­sources from mo­bil­is­ing am­abutho, host­ing iz­im­bizo with amakhosi to rather ed­u­cat­ing ru­ral cit­i­zens about var­i­ous ways in which the Constitution strength­ens and pro­tects their se­cu­rity of ten­ure by up­grad­ing their rights.

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The con­ver­sion of ex­ist­ing land rights into leases will un­der­mine ten­ure se­cu­rity of the peo­ple af­fected.

Le­gal Re­sources Cen­tre

One woman com­plained that the trust had de­nied her per­mis­sion to build a garage on her own land.

Sizani Ngubani

Ru­ral Women’s Move­ment

Sihlali is a re­searcher at UCT’s Land and Ac­count­abil­ity Re­search Cen­tre.

JAC­QUES NAUDE

Cat­tle on sparse graz­ing land dur­ing a drought in Hluh­luwe a few years ago. Now ru­ral res­i­dents are fight­ing for their right to re­main on their land.|

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