Ever since a panel investigating legislation passed since 1994 criticised the Ingonyama Trust, King Goodwill Zwelithini and the ANC have been on the warpath over land. As the debate over land expropriation without compensation rages on around the country, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Zwelithini last weekend to assure him that government had no intention of expropriating land belonging to the Zulu nation.
The panel was established by the Speakers' Forum of Parliament and was chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe. It was established to investigate the impact of legislation passed since 1994 across a wide range of issues, including poverty, the economy, and land.
According to The Citizen, the report recommended that the Ingonyama Trust, which holds 30% of land in KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of the Zulu people be disbanded and the land be transferred to the people directly.
It infuriated traditional leaders when it was released late in 2017.
To add insult to injury, Motlanthe spoke at a land summit held by the ANC in May, and was critical of some aspects of traditional leadership.
According to News24, he said,
"The people had high hopes that the ANC would liberate them from the confines of the homelands system. Clearly now, we are the ones saying land must go to traditional leaders and not the people."
He reportedly named the Ingonyama Trust specifically and said some people who previously lived under the Umnini Trust were transferred to the Ingonyama Trust at the end of apartheid, and now had to pay the Trust's board R1000 rent which increases by 10% yearly. Previously, they owned their land outright, he reportedly said.
Motlanthe said the "majority" of traditional leaders behave like "village tin-pot dictators to the people there in the villages".
In response to this and the broader land debate, Zwelithini called a land imbizo, held a week ago, where Zulu people attending sang songs critical of Motlanthe, Eyewitness News (EWN) reported. There were calls for KwaZulu-Natal to secede from South Africa and for foreigners to leave the land.
On Friday night, Ramaphosa, cancelled a community meeting in Chatworth to meet with the king. According to News24, IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi also attended the meeting at Empangeni.
Ramaphosa reportedly told the King that government would not touch land under the trust.
"I had a wonderful meeting with King Zwelithini. He and I have a wonderful relationship and when the issue of the Ingonyama Trust came up, I felt the need for meeting", Ramaphosa said.
"I assured him that [neither] government nor the ANC has any intention whatsoever to take the land from the Ingonyama Trust. I reaffirmed that land under control of the trust as per legislation and at the end it is the land he has custody of on behalf of people," Ramaphosa said.
Deputy president, David Mabuza, reportedly accompanied Ramaphosa to the meeting. In an interview with City Press, Mabuza said the priority for government was the 87% of land that the former and colonial and apartheid administrations had held, not the 13% held mostly by black people.
Mabuza reportedly said that the ANC had historically had no issue with traditional leaders being custodians of tribal land on behalf of people, and that the party "did not want to tamper with that because there were no issues".
But he said some people now wanted title deeds. Traditional leaders, however, said title deeds were a problem because it meant banks could potentially take land away from people in cases where people used the land as collateral. The ANC did not want people to lose land, Mabuza reportedly said.
However, Ramaphosa's office said there was no apology from Ramaphosa, according to Eyewitness News (EWN).
According to his spokesperson, Khusela Diko, Ramaphosa merely clarified government's position.
"The president has said everybody in South Africa should be engaging in this matter. We'll listen to all views, we'll engage all views and at the end of the process, the South African position has been deliberated by all our people," said Diko.
The chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust, judge Jerome Ngwenya confirmed this in an interview with Talk Radio 702. Ngwenya said Ramaphosa "just wanted to clear the air that there is no intention from government to tamper with land held by Ingonyama Trust for an on behalf of the people."