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The Land Question – The Ingonyama Trust Controversy


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The Land Question – The Ingonyama Trust Controversy

11th May 2018


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Jabulani Sithole and Percy Ngonyama unpack the double agenda of the KZN land deal that sought to entrench bantustan cliques and subvert the revolutionary gains of 1994

In November 2017, a High-Level Panel (HLP), appointed by the Parliamentary Speakers’ forum, and under the leadership of former President Kgalema Motlanthe, declared the 1994 Ingonyama Trust Act (ITA) unconstitutional and recommended that it either be repealed or amended.


The HLP submission provides for redress to the rural communities and township residents in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province who have been negatively affected by the ITA and its workings since it was enacted on the eve of South Africa’s hard-won democracy in 1994. The HLP’s progressive stance has elicited a negative response from certain sections of society.

The amakhosi in KZN in general, and the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu in particular, have threatened to mount both legal and even violent resistance. During the annual commemoration of the Battle of Isandlwana at Nquthu and again during the debates on the 2018 State of the Nation Address, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi argued that the ITA was meant to make certain that “land in traditional areas could continue to be administered according to indigenous and customary law”. Hostel-dwellers who gathered at the Mai-Mai Hostel in Johannesburg on 24 February 2018 also vowed to stop the government from dissolving the ITA.


Speaking at the opening of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Legislature in Pietermaritzburg on 27 February 2018, King Goodwill Zwelithini threatened to call on his subjects to take up arms to defend the land under the Ingonyama Trust if the need arose. He then called on loyal Zulu people to contribute a minimum of R5 towards a fund to defend the ITA. In response, KZN Premier Willies Mchunu assured traditional leaders of provincial government support, and offered to convene a land summit to debate the submissions of the HLP on the ITA.

There are flaws in the emotional responses of the main supporters of the Ingonyama Trust (IT) land arrangements. Firstly, most of these responses ignore the context in which the ITA was enacted. As a result they erroneously assume that land which falls under the Ingonyama Trust is administered in a fashion similar to pre-colonial traditional African societies, when land was communally owned and the king, chief or their appointed officials dispensed it to whomever came to khonza (pay allegiance).

Repealing the act, they maintain, would therefore disadvantage rural communities. This line of argument ignores the fact that what is regarded as customary law has not been immune to contamination by the expedient political considerations of successive colonial administrations since the mid-19th century in what is now the KZN. There is the false impression that there has been a seamless evolution over time and a failure to take into account the fluidity of customary law since the advent of colonialism and apartheid.

Secondly, the arguments have completely ignored the fact that the HLP concluded the ITA was unconstitutional after extensive public consultations which revealed that the current and proposed legislation on traditional leadership, and under the Ingonyama Trust lands, in particular denies people living in areas under traditional leaders several constitutional rights which consequently distinguishes them from those living in the rest of the country who enjoy full benefits of post-apartheid citizenship.

What is the Ingonyama Trust?
The Ingonyama Trust is a politically controversial land deal that King Goodwill Zwelithini signed with the apartheid regime at the instigation of IFP president, Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, three days before the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. It was established through the KwaZulu-Natal Ingonyama Trust Act of 1994, enacted on 24 April 1994.

The stated intentions of the ITA was to establish a trust hold all land previously owned by or belonging to the KwaZulu bantustan Government, in the name of the Ingonyama, for the benefit, material welfare and social well-being of the members of the “tribes and communities” living on the land. The act was amended in 1997 to create the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) which administers the land falling under the jurisdiction of the IT.

The ITA is a uniquely KwaZulu-Natal legal instrument: no other former bantustan lands vested in one of the former governments or administrations listed under Section 239 of the Interim Constitution. The HLP consequently observed that the arrangement was such that the ITA enabled the ITB to exercise control over land in ways that far surpass any power the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform has in the other eight provinces.

The ambiguities and the deficiencies in the ITA and its amendments and the ramifications thereof, have had a far-reaching effect on the communities residing on the land under the jurisdiction of the ITB.9 The HLP noted in particular the tensions between the provisions of the ITA and its actual application when it comes to the communities and residents.

The HLP advanced five reasons for its recommendations to parliament:

Firstly, the Ingonyama Trust is meant to exist and function subject to existing land rights under customary law and not act in ways that undermine or abrogate such customary law and other underlying lands rights. However, the Trust in some instances regards itself as the outright owner of the land and therefore not subject to any duty to consult or to obtain community consent in dealing with the land. This has given rise to situations where the Trust has leased land to external third parties, such as shopping centres, without having first consulted and obtained consent of those whose informal or customary land rights were subsumed by the shopping centre.

This observation was a result of submissions that community members had made to the HLP during the public engagements. We should hasten to add that these allegations are part of widespread grievances which the KZN’s Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) has had to investigate in places like Umgababa at the eMathulini chiefdom, south of Durban; kwaWosiyane at the Mambulu area of Kranskop; and KwaShezi at Inkandla (to name just a few), in 2014-2016. Our experiences, having conducted these investigations on behalf of Cogta, is that the ambiguities of the ITA made it impossible to resolve them in ways that would guarantee security of tenure for communities concerned.

Secondly, the HLP established that the ITB has over the years threatened the security of tenure of communities and residents living on lands under its jurisdiction by converting the Permission to Occupy Certificates (PTOs) into lease agreements for both business and residential purposes. The PTOs were issued as part of land tenure system on non-surveyed land throughout South Africa before 1994. Through the Upgrading of Land Tenure Rights Act of 1991 (ULTRA) the PTOs could be upgraded to ownership after the land had been surveyed. This was an indication of the strength of such underlying rights. It noted that ULTRA was, however, never implemented because of the costs and the complexity entailed in surveying and transferring the land. In KZN the PTOs were kept alive by two pieces of legislation after 1994. The first was the KwaZulu Land Affairs Act 11 of 1992; the second was Government Notice 32 of 1994.

The HLP concluded that the lease agreements were structured to favour the ITB and to disadvantage the lessee. The standard ITB lease agreement provides for a 40-year term, and a 10% annual increase on rental. It compels the lessee to fence the property within six months. Furthermore, the lessee must obtain written permission to build, must notify the ITB of all improvements. The ITB is entitled to cancel the lease agreement for failure to pay rent. All buildings and structures that have been built on the land will belong to the Ingonyama Trust when the lessee vacates the premises. The ITB generated a huge income from these arrangements. The 2015-2016 rental income alone stood at R96 130 563. There is no evidence that it was used for the benefit or material well-being of communities.

Instead, the Ingonyama Trust has accumulated substantial reserves.

Thirdly, the ITB has ignored the provisions of the Ingonyama Trust Amendment Act of 1997, which stipulates that the ITA of 1994 shall not apply to townships, and that township land should be controlled by the relevant municipality. Initially, the ITA had applied to both rural and urban land within the former KwaZulu bantustan areas, and included the townships (known as ‘R293” or “Trust” townships, because they had been established in terms of Proclamation R293 of 1962). The HLP found evidence that the ITB continued to hold land in the former R293 townships and that it is dealing with the land as if it were the outright owner. It exercises exclusive power to allocate it, authorise its use, and collect revenue from it. The R293 townships also qualify for upgrading tenure rights in terms of ULTRA and yet there is widespread failure to implement ULTRA.

Fourthly, the HLP was prompted by the criticism that the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform has levelled against the Ingonyama Trust for its lack of transparency and apparent failure to use the revenue it receives for the benefit of the beneficiaries – the rural communities and residents who live on the lands under its jurisdiction. In addition, the Auditor-General has found that the Ingonyama Trust:

  • Does not comply with the financial reporting framework prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act 29 (PFMA);
  • Procures goods and services without inviting the competitive bids; and
  • As the designated “accounting authority”, the ITB does not adequately exercise its oversight responsibilities with regard to the implementation and the monitoring of internal controls for financial reporting and compliance with applicable legislation.

The HLP has concluded that the ITB is a public entity in terms of the PFMA and its executive authority is accountable to Parliament in the performance of its duties.

It adds that the Ingonyama Trust is subject to Section 217 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which requires it to comply with the principles of fairness, equity, transparency, competitiveness and cost-effectiveness.

Finally, the HLP also took into account numerous reports of the ITB’s abuse of the members of the public – through failure to consult or even inform them when development projects are initiated in their areas, disrupting their lives and violating their land tenure rights. The profits and benefits from these projects go to the Ingonyama Trust instead of to the members of the community on whose lands these projects are introduced. In some cases, businessmen have had their business shut down without explanation, despite the fact that they pay rent to the traditional leaders.

Furthermore, rural communities are forced to pay rents to the Ingonyama Trust without prior consultation or consent. At Jozini, for example, they were simply told assemble at the Thusong Centre and bring their identity documents. Thereafter they received monthly bills requiring them to pay rents to the Ingonyama Trust.

It was primarily because of these practices that the HLP proposed a review of the ITA with an aim of either repealing or amending it, to bring it in line with national legislation and the prescripts of the Constitution.

This conduct, assuming the HLP findings are accurate, is clearly abusive. The proposed measures are therefore aimed at ensuring that KZN’s rural poor enjoy security of land tenure and benefit from the developmental projects. The national government should not allow a situation where the poor and most vulnerable South Africans, especially women and the elderly, become not only victims to exploitation and blatant extortion but are also mere spectators when development come to their communities. They should benefit from the wealth generated on their ancestral lands.

Overview of the HLP Report on the ITATA

  1. The HLP argues that the ITA should either be repealed or amended. The motivation for a repeal is that this would bring KZN into line with national land policy; secure land tenure for the (rural) communities and (township) residents who reside on the lands that currently fall under the jurisdiction of the ITB. The
  2. HLP further advised that, in the event of a Repeal Act, it should provide for the repeal of the ITA and for the disestablishment and dissolution of the Ingonyama Trust. The repeal should also include provisions for the transfer of the trust lands, assets, liabilities, rights and obligations to the minister responsible for land affairs as a custodian on behalf of the members of the communities and residents concerned.
  3. The HLP submitted that should the repeal not be immediately possible, substantial amendments must be made to secure the land rights of the people affected, and ensure that land vests in a person or body with proper democratic accountability. It further recommended that mechanisms be established to:
  • Investigate and resolve complaints by people whose rights have been infringed by the Trust, or whose rights may be infringed in the future;
  • Ensure that trust land (including all land registered in the name of the Ingonyama as a trustee for the Ingonyama Trust) is administered for and on behalf of and for the benefit of the communities and residents concerned;
  • Include provisions which amend the composition of the ITB, which should fall under the auspices of the Minister responsible for land affairs;
  • Provide that the Trust land shall be subject to the national land programmes;.
  • Reiterate that the Act shall not apply to land in all townships;
  • Provide for a Trust Fund; and
  • Preserve the records of the Trust and establish a “Land Register’.

4. The HLP also specified that the in the event of a repeal or amendment of the ITA, ownership of trust land should vest in the national government or some other body designated for this purpose, and that there should be an explicit statement that:

  • The holders of the rights to the land, either as users or occupiers of the land, are deemed to be the owners of the land for the purposes of any revenue from the land or any compensation for the use of the land, which otherwise flow to the registered owner;
  • Any revenue or compensation that accrues from the use of the land shall be paid to the users or occupiers of the land and not to the Ingonyama or the Trust, if it continues to exist, or to the state;
  • Any such revenue should be paid to the people who are deprived of the use of the land, and not to the state or Ingonyama Trust.

The ‘Jambaisation’ of KwaZulu-Natal
The Ingonyama Trust was a last-ditch effort on the part of conservative elements within the KwaZulu bantustan-based African semi-feudal and petit bourgeoisie (and their National Party and apartheid security force allies) to entrench a “Jamba option” in KZN to serve as a base for destabilisation after the 1994 advent of democracy (Jamba was the southern Angolan base of Jonas Savimbi’s counter-revolutionary Unita movement, armed, trained, supplied and supported by the CIA and the apartheid regime.)

The establishment of the Ingonyama Trust was a culmination of at least four years of attempting to resist a negotiated political settlement, which began with the bilateral talks between the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party government from April 1990 onwards. The bilateral talks had given rise to the signing of the Groote Schuur and the Pretoria Minutes in April and August 1990 and laid the basis for ensuing multiparty negotiations. The IFP adopted an ambivalent response to these negotiations.

The IFP’s Buthelezi, stayed away from the talks when they commenced as the Convention for Democratic South Africa (Codesa) in December 1991. The IFP sent only a low-key IFP delegation in protest against the exclusion of the Zulu king and the KwaZulu bantustan, arguing that the IFP was not representative of the entire “Zulu nation” and the KwaZulu bantustan was not an apartheid creation.

Buthelezi explained the IFP decision as follows:
“…and furthermore after several times I said to him (FW de Klerk) [in] 1990-1991 he must remember that the Zulus are not like these other self-governing territories, that the Zulus are a sovereign nation with a king and they have been there for a long time. They are not bound by the homelands policy. And I’ve said to him and then he would say yes, he understands that. So, I said, ‘Do you understand that the king will have his delegation there with the government of KwaZulu?’ The IFP has never claimed to represent all the Zulus. So, he would say, ‘I understand, I understand this perfectly.’ But just because the ANC didn’t want that that’s why I didn’t go to the Codesa plenary although my party was there because I would not abandon the Zulus who are excluded by him (de Klerk).”

The IFP had already set a precedent by insisting that both the IFP and the Zulu king’s delegations should attend and become separate signatories to the National Peace Accord in 1991.

The signing of a record of understanding between the ANC and the NP government in September 1992 was the final straw for the IFP at a very crucial stage in the transition to a democratic South Africa. It symbolised not only betrayal by an old political ally, but it dashed all hope of ever asserting its claim that it was a liberation movement. Buthelezi adopted at least four distinct responses to the record of understanding.

He accused De Klerk of having “sold his soul” to the ANC: “I raised some things with him 10 days before he signed the record of understanding with the ANC which shattered my faith in him because he doesn’t keep his word”;
He led the IFP into a loosely constituted right-wing alliance of black and white conservative groups known as the Concerned South Africa Group in October 1992 – among them the IFP, Ciskei and Bophuthatswana bantustan dictators Oupa Gqozo and Lucas Mangope, the Conservative Party, the Afrikaner Volksunie and the Afrikaner Freedom Foundation.

The alliance called for the abolition of the record of understanding (on the grounds that it tried to force other parties to rubber-stamp the ANC/NP agreements at multiparty negotiations), postponement of negotiations, and the disbanding of MK (in fact formally disbanded at its last parade on 16 December 1991).;

  • Through the IFP he adopted a more confrontational approach when the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly unilaterally adopted a draft constitution as a first step towards federal autonomy for KwaZulu and Natal in December 1992. This was an attempt to advance a secessionist solution to South Africa’s transitional politics along similar lines to Unita’s Savimbi who, with the active support of apartheid South Africa, had led a nearly three decade-long counter-revolutionary struggle in southeast Angola after Angolan independence in 1975. The IFP’s agenda was to promote a chauvinistic Zulu ethnicity and regionalism;
  • He and the IFP boycotted the multiparty negotiations that resumed in April 1993, while it secretly began to consolidate plans to sabotage the first democratic elections, scheduled for 26-28 April 1994. It received help from the Afrikaner Weerstandbewiging and Vlakplaas-based members of the apartheid South African Police (SAP) and the South African Defence Force Military Intelligence. Former Vlakplaas-based apartheid hit-squad members such as Eugene de Kock and the IFP’s Walter Felgate subsequently confirmed that plans were underway to sabotage and undermine the first democratic elections. The Vlakplaas-based operatives used their network for the supposed recovery of illegal weapons as a cover for the distribution of weapons and other illegal activities.

In public the IFP embraced a renewed chauvinistic Zulu ethnic mobilisation by rallying its members and supporters behind the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, in demanding political independence and sovereignty for a Zulu kingdom far larger than the kingdom had been at its high point in the pre-colonial period. Between Codesa and the adoption of the Interim Constitution in late 1993, the IFP’s confrontationist Zulu nationalism assumed the form of mass mobilisation through marches during which demands to carry and brandish what it described as traditional weapons gained prominence.

In response, the NP government held bilateral consultations with the IFP and the Zulu king. These consultations culminated in at least three meetings between the NP government, the IFP leadership, King Goodwill Zwelithini and a huge delegation of eminent Zulu personalities in January and February 1994. At a gathering at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 17 January 1994, King Goodwill Zwelithini told a crowd of between 35 000 and 60 000 heavily armed Zulus, that he had come to claim the Zulu right to self-determination because the proposed post-apartheid constitution did not make allowance for this right.

One unnamed prince declared: “We tolerated British rule, we tolerated rule by you [the Afrikaners]. We tolerated apartheid, but we will not be ruled by the Xhosas. We therefore demand our sovereignty!”

In a follow-up meeting at the Union Buildings on 1 February 1994, the Zulu king and his delegation demanded sovereignty and self-determination since the demands for a federal arrangement had failed to materialise. The IFP, the Zulu monarch and NP government representatives met again in Durban in February. There again the IFP and the Zulu monarch mobilised a huge crowd (about 100 000) heavily armed supporters brandishing spears, assegais, cowhide shields, automatic rifles and other guns. They camped on the streets in the precinct of the Durban City Hall while the meeting was in progress.

While Buthelezi used chauvinistic Zulu nationalism to mobilise locally, for broader, including international, consumption he adopted Cold War, anti-communist rhetoric: “I think anybody who has studied communism would understand [that] with communism you are either revolutionaries or counter-revolutionaries. In my case, they stated very, very clearly in the document in 1985, which I think you have, that I was not a puppet of the regime but they considered me to a be a counter-revolutionary, and then they stated in black and white that they must therefore work on bringing me down.

“The ANC is an alliance between communists and those who are ANC and the influence of communism is very prominent there… This is quite definite because if you look at the segments of the alliance which are there, the ANC/SACP/Cosatu, if you look at Cosatu you will notice the leaders of Cosatu are members of the Communist Party, also if you look at the Executive of the ANC you will see more than half the members are members of the Communist Party, but they are seen as representatives of the ordinary members of the ANC … that indicates who influences who. The Communist Party influences the ANC but not the other way around.”

This anti-communist rhetoric chimed well with the apartheid regime’s international attempts to present its policies as a defence of Western values against a global Communist threat. As John Daniel notes, the South African security forces gave very little cognisance to the political motivation of the South African liberation movements beyond regarding them as part of a perceived Soviet onslaught against the civilised free democratic Western world. They could not believe (or did not want to believe) that black South Africans who supported the ANC and its allies wanted for themselves (and not some imagined Soviet master) what white South Africans already had in the form of political sovereignty. The same can be said of the IFP. In a desperate bid to hang on to its regional power base, which it had enjoyed since its leadership embraced the apartheid-created bantustan system in the 1970s, it clung to Cold War rhetoric and dismissed the ANC’s commitment to an inclusive democratic dispensation in South Africa as either a communist conspiracy or a threat of Xhosa domination. It drew the Zulu monarchy deep into this skewed political perception.

It was the promise of international mediation which brought the fierce brinkmanship in KZN politics between the IFP and the Zulu monarch, and the NP government and the ANC, to an end a few days before the first democratic elections in 1994. On 19 April, the leaders of the ANC, the IFP and the NP, Nelson Mandela, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and FW de Klerk, met in Pretoria to sign an agreement in which the IFP committed itself to participate in national elections a week later. Five days later, De Klerk and King Goodwill Zwelithini signed a separate agreement resulting in the passing of the Ingonyama Trust Act. What is unclear is whether the ANC had any knowledge of the ITA, which as Motlanthe’s HLP has observed, is in conflict with both the Constitution and the laws regulating land issues in South Africa. Both Buthelezi and the FW de Klerk Foundation deny that this agreement was a secret.
But it is abundantly clear that the ITA disadvantaged rural communities and residents living on land controlled by the Ingonyama Trust.

The ITA was promulgated in the midst of endemic violence, which had resulted in the deaths of more than 20 000 people. This violence escalated shortly before the elections and continued until about 2001. Rupert Taylor says that approximately 1 000 people were killed in Natal alone during the three months leading to the April 1994 elections, and a further 2 000 people died between April 1994 and 2001.

The current threats of violence in the wake of the HLP report are in many respects a chilling deja vu for the residents of KZN. The threats should not be taken lightly, but must not deter the progressive democratic government led by the ANC from addressing what is undoubtedly a lingering problem that needs a permanent solution. It is important not only to act to address the challenges created by the ITA but to question the relevance of the relics of a feudal order that exist side by side with democratic arrangements catered for in a constitution so highly regarded globally.
The success of actions on the ITA will be measured by the extent to which it caters for the interests of the poor, and women in particular. Arguments that have been advanced to defend this exploitative feudal arrangement are not backed up by history and the experiences of the people of KZN since the advent of colonial domination in the mid-19th century and the segregationist and apartheid administrations of the 1910 to 1994 period. The Ingonyama Trust has been an attempt to perpetuate, well into the 21st century, conditions which obtained in the KwaZulu bantustan. In the process, rural communities and individuals find themselves often even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse than they were under apartheid.

Access & land use in traditional African society
A number of anthropological and historical studies on the issue of land and access to it in the predominantly patriarchal traditional, pre-colonial African society show that land was owned collectively, as it belonged to the isizwe (loosely translated as “nation”), chiefdom. The king or chief merely acted as its custodian. There were particular political and socio-economic aspects of land usage and right of access to it. Not only land, but other communal resources of livelihood, were for the collective productive use by members of a chiefdom or kingdom. In these societies, no single person could hold on to vast amounts of land when there were individuals who remained landless. These societies were fluid –sections of the chiefdoms often moved to other areas in the event of land shortage or social conflict where they paid allegiance to the ruler (chief or king) in return for access to land. Under the practice of ukukhonza (paying allegiance to a chief or king), the abanumzane (homestead-heads) were allocated sites on which to establish their imizi (homesteads), to cultivate and for their livestock to graze. In return, they, and members of their homesteads, were expected to fulfil certain civil duties. The imizi were established throughout the chiefdom’s or kingdom’s territorial space, from izigodi, villages, to izifunda, districts. This system of land tenure had evolved over several centuries and was firmly embedded in traditional political societies.

With the advent of capitalism and colonial encroachment, land became a territorial commodity that had to be surveyed, cut into pieces, then either left vacant in anticipation of the “right” market prices or for “developmental projects’. With colonialism-induced land shortages, amid amidst rising populations, izigodi did become full and people had to find alternative sites for setting up their homesteads. More importantly, British colonialists imposed indirect rule through which it co-opted chiefs and izinduna (headmen) into becoming salaried petty-judicial officers who ruled at the behest of their colonial masters rather than their own people. Colonialism simultaneously created rigidity out of societies which had fluid and dynamic social and political structures in the pre-colonial period. It further exerted pressure on commoners and traditional leaders when it ruled that chiefly power and influence was to be determined by the number of imizi that were paying allegiance to a chief and by the land which fell under the jurisdiction of each chiefdom. Chiefs with larger territories and following were paid higher stipends than those who had fewer subjects and smaller territories. This precipitated competition and violent conflicts over land through what became known as “faction fighting”. Fighting further entrenched the divide-and-rule strategy as those chiefs who were loyal to colonial authorities were protected and promoted, while those who resisted colonial rule were regarded as recalcitrant and were deposed.

Commoners, often men of no good standing in their societies, were appointed in their places. This further exacerbated violent conflicts within and between chiefdoms.

During pre-colonial periods, land was not regarded as a commodity which traditional leadership owned privately. Chiefs served as custodians who held the land on behalf of the people as a whole. African societies in pre-capitalist times were based on the accumulation of living things, cattle and people, in comparison to modern-day capitalist societies which are based on the accumulation of material things. These foundations of traditional society have been completely ignored in the debate around the Ingonyama Trust. The absurdity of it all is that not only is the land vested in the hands of one individual, the Zulu King as the sole Trustee, but it is the assumption that the people who are living there are regarded as a form of commodity through which material benefits are accumulated.

Rapid urbanisation, especially during the 1920s, gave rise to two important pieces of legislation. The first was the 1923 Natives Urban Areas Act, which was aimed at controlling the influx of black people into the urban areas. The second was the 1927 Native Administration Act, which was passed as a counter-revolutionary measure in the face of the rise of black working class politics. It was part of what became known as retribalisation initiatives, enshrined in the 1927 Native Administration Act as a national social and political policy and designed to shore up South Africa’s “tribal” order in the context of urbanisation and class-based resistance politics from the late 1920s. These initiatives invoked Zulu ethnic identity politics as an alternative to class-based resistance struggles the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) and the Industrial Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) championed during the 1920s and 1930s.

Native Affairs Department (NAD) officials in Natal embraced the retribalisation initiatives with alacrity, seeking to perpetuate long-established “tribal” administration in the region. The underlying motive for this was to exert tighter control over African people in the reserves and to contain the process of urbanisation. The most significant development in the retribalisation initiatives was that Harry Lugg, the Chief Commissioner for Native Affairs in Natal, was even willing to reverse the long-standing official hostility in Natal to the Zulu royal family, and move towards the recognition of the Zulu regent, Prince Edward Mshiyeni Zulu, as paramount chief.

Also in terms of this initiative, the white authorities in Natal, who had regarded Zulu nationalist identities as a threat to white interests in the 19th century, were beginning to see in them an instrument to be co-opted in defence of government and capitalist interests. They therefore seized an opportunity to revive them – albeit in a modified form, to give chiefs a new lease of life and make them a bulwark against the thrust of emerging radical black community and working class politics.

The Zulu ethnic project strengthened the position of chiefs who were politically marginalised by industrialisation and African urbanisation. Retribalisation also enabled the NAD officials to develop patronage networks. Some chiefs had their authority strengthened while others were continually alienated by the NAD’s decisions and policies. This form of segregationist state intervention usually intensified the levels of conflict and enhanced the opportunities for the revival of disputed claims and boundary disputes within and between chiefdoms. The existence of patronage relations compelled most chiefs to demonstrate absolute loyalty to the state, while trying to maintain their authority over their followers. Retribalisation also encouraged the NAD to amalgamate chieftaincies previously fragmented by the state.

However, the amalgamation of chieftaincies often gave rise to situations where chiefs jostled for positions and influence with the NAD officials. They did so firstly in the hope of increasing their powers, and of winning the support of NAD officials, to enhance their prospects of retaining their positions in the event of an amalgamation of fragmented chieftaincies. This often resulted in the resuscitation of disputes over succession and in the submission of competing applications for the resuscitation of chieftaincies dissolved by the state.

These circumstances continued under apartheid, through the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951, the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act (1959) and legislation that led to the consolidation of bantustans from the 1960s to the 1980s. In Natal and Zululand, most of the land that had been set aside under colonialism as “locations” for African occupation, became part of the KwaZulu bantustan. The amakhosi and their appointed officials continued to preside over the land and allocate it to members of their political units, within the confines of apartheid legislation.

It is this land that was awarded in 1994 to the Zulu King with the establishment of the Ingonyama Trust on the very eve of South Africa’s first democratic elections.

Written by Jabulani Sithole and Percy Ngonyama, from the Mzala Nxumalo Centre for the Study of South African Society


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