In a victory for rural women in KwaZulu-Natal, the Pietermaritzburg High Court has declared the Zulu monarchy’s Ingomyama Trust acted unlawfully when it entered into lease agreements with residents living on land under its control, when the residents were the true owners under customary Zulu law.
On Friday morning the court ruled the Ingonyama Trust acted unlawfully when it concluded lease agreements with holders of permission to occupy (PTO) certificates and rights in terms of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA), without first complying with the requirement to obtain the informed consent of rights holders before changing the leases.
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The roots of the case
The case against the trust was brought in 2020 when a group of mostly women under the banner of the Rural Women’s Movement, took it to court, claiming they were tricked into signing leases for their ancestral land on whic they had been living for decades.
Many of the women also complained that besides being forced to pay rent on land they had occupied for years, they were barred from signing the leases themselves and had to find male relatives to do so on their behalf.
The Ingomyama Trust’s sole trustee at the time was late AmaZulu monarch king Goodwill Zwelethini. It had under its control more than 2.8 million hectares of land. An estimated 5 million people live on land under the trust’s control.
The Ttust and its board, along with the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs and the Provincial House of Traditional Leadership were all listed as respondents in the application.
The women were represented by the Legal Resources Centre, advocate Geoff Budlender, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi and Janice Bleazard.
They asked the court to find that:
- The Ingonyama Trust had acted in violation of the Constitution by cancelling residents’ PTO certificates.
- Concluding residential lease agreements with holders of PTOs.
They also wanted the court to order the trust to cancel any lease agreements and restore full occupancy and use rights to the land occupants.
What the judgment means
Judge Isaac Madondo, with judges Jerome Mnguni and Peter Olsen declared all the leases entered into over residential and agricultural land unlawful and invalid. They also ordered the trust to repay all money paid to it in terms of these leases.
This amounts to millions of rands for the rural land dwellers.
Furthermore, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Thoko Didiza, was found to have failed in her constitutional obligation to respect and promote the land rights of rural people living on land administered by the trust. Didiza has been ordered to ensure processes be put in place to allow for the granting of PTO rights.
Didiza must also report back to the Court after every three months on progress in resolving issues related to the protection of PTO rights until appropriate mechanisms for the protection of customary land occupation rights are permanently adopted.