Towards the end of 2012, Ingonyama Trust Board officially opened its Headquarters offices in Pietermaritzburg at number 65 Trelawney Road on 9 November 2012. To His Majesty the King, the Board Members, the Staff and Amakhosi this was a dream come true. This was one great event after another. An earlier event was the launch of Ingonyama Rural Development Forum which took place in May 2012.
Why should one regard these events as landmarks? The answer is simple. Ingonyama Trust is a very unique entity in the whole world. It is a property owning trust, managed by a professional Board with the King as its Chairman, for the benefit of the communities. The land is allocated by the Traditional Councils in terms of indigenous law and culture. Therefore it is very important that an institution like this should have sufficient space from which to operate. There are many reasons for this. Let me deal with one or two.
Most practises of indigenous law and culture are not written. Hence, it is difficult to understand from the onset as an outsider how the system works. For this reason the existence of the Board to administer land at a higher level makes a compelling case for researchers and academics to constantly observe the workings of this institution. But even generally while indigenous law and culture is recognised by the Constitution of the country and governs relations among the majority of the population of this country many still do not have full appreciation of its application. Especially in land matters.
While at the end of the day, the preferred tenure issued by the Board is a leasehold, this is a simplification of a complex process which in essence contains a myriad of rights. People who live according to indigenous law and custom know that their rights are not adequately described in the leasehold as theirs is more than this. Hence, a leasehold agreement is a convenient description of part of the content of their rights. There is a lot that a lease agreement does not cover. Their association with land of which they are beneficiaries, is permanent and perpetual.
As such to them Ingonyama Trust Board is not a landlord. It could not be rationally explained how an entity which came into existence just the other day can be the owner of land which most of the beneficiaries predate its existence. The fact that they have no documents to prove their rights is not good enough to deny their existence.
Previous successive government administrations retained the land which is the subject of ownership by Ingonyama Trust in a communal set up for a variety of reasons. These were mostly political and I do not intend dealing with them here. What is important though is the subtle acknowledgement that communal land ownership consists of more than land ownership.
The layers of rights embedded in communal land which Ingonyama Trust Board is entrusted to oversee consist among others of the rights to land, as well as social and economic rights. These rights are intertwined and cannot be easily discerned.
In a way indigenous layers of rights in the absence of clear recordal are suppressed and hidden. The Board is like an outside world which is there to protect them in the language and manner that can be interpreted in the context of our common law.
The Board must, moving forward, seek to document and clarify the entire content of these communal rights which each holder has on land. Hopefully once this is done a correct description of the nature of the instrument which encapsulates these rights will be properly described or given an appropriate term. In order to undertake this, the Board needs resources and space. Hence the significance of having new and bigger office space. It is this space that has now been acquired. The work is thus about to begin.
One might ask what other work is done in the ITB offices. There is a lot, but let me confine myself to one. Most title deeds have conditions. Likewise most things, properties apart from cadastral description, have names.
Some of these names are offensive and derogatory. Some of the conditions are likewise offensive and racially discriminatory. It is not unusual to come across for instance a condition of title which reads “this piece of land shall not be owned by a native”.
While in terms of our current law conditions like this are unthinkable and unconstitutional, they do not remove themselves automatically from the title deeds if they were once there. Therefore as part of aligning issues and in particular land matters to a new constitutional order, our staff also attend to the removal of these outdated conditions and names on title deeds.
I am not aware of any institution which has made it its business to focus on the issues the ITB is focusing on. No doubt its birth will remain forever an area of controversy, but that is not what preoccupies the Board.
What I intended to drive home here is that in 2014 Ingonyama Trust will be twenty years old. The lessons learnt from its operation, (especially from the time the Board came into existence in 1998, after the Act was substantially amended and effectively rewritten) are worth capturing for generations to come.
The proposed legislation on land reform has isolated communal land and deem it appropriate to deal with it separately. One is inclined to agree with this view. We believe that there are many lessons to be learnt from the experience of Ingonyama Trust. That experience needs to be factored in when the communal land law is ultimately passed.
We as a Board would not have moved this far alone. It is therefore very important that we extend our gratitude to all the communities living on this land we are asked to contribute in its administration, Amakhosi and their Councils, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, our Executive Authority and his staff, members of the Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform, the entire ITB staff, various Municipalities in the Province as well as various Provincial Government Departments. Without your co-operation, our existence stand to suffer. We are as always for ever grateful for the sterling leadership from His Majesty, the King. Bayede!