Disappointment as KZN land rights case postponed to next year
The big showdown between the Ingonyama Trust, whose sole trustee is Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, and informal land rights holders in KwaZulu-Natal will be heard only next year.
The matter was set down for Friday in the high court in Pietermaritzburg but KwaZulu-Natal judge president Achmat Jappie informed the parties late on Tuesday that the matter should not be heard by a single judge but by a full bench.
Lawson Naidoo, director of the main applicant in the case, the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac), said the organisation was deeply disappointed by Jappie’s last-minute decision.
“We were notified of this decision in the afternoon of November 19 2019. The matter was set down for hearing several months ago.”
Naidoo said the postponement at this late stage caught the parties unaware. “Arrangements had already been made for our legal team to travel to KwaZulu-Natal for the hearing,” Naidoo said.
Naidoo said Jappie had now directed that the matter be heard before a full bench of three judges and be scheduled over two days. The matter will now be heard in 2020.
“The applicants in the matter were not consulted in this regard and nor were we afforded the opportunity to make representations regarding the postponement.”
The case was brought by Casac, the Rural Women's Movement and seven informal land rights holders. They are challenging the compulsory signing of lease agreements at the behest of the Ingonyama Trust Board.
The case concerns the conversion of customary law and statutory rights to occupy land that is in the custody of the Ingonyama Trust into fixed-term leases with rentals that attract automatic annual escalations.
The complaint arose after the Ingonyama Trust published advertisements in November 2017 “inviting” holders of Permission to Occupy (PTO) permits to approach the trust to upgrade these permits into long-term leases.
The Legal Resources Centre, which represents Casac, the movement and the land rights holders, said the gradual conversion of PTO permits and informal land rights into long- term leases began before this notice, but the November 2017 advertisements brought this process to the fore.
The organisations and the seven land rights holders are challenging the legality of the trust’s conduct in effecting such changes, which weaken the tenure security of residents in KwaZulu-Natal.
The Legal Resources Centre said when the residents received these notices, they were not informed that they were in effect watering down their existing land rights or that it was possible to upgrade their PTO permits to title deeds in terms of the Upgrading of Land Tenure Rights Act.
The centre said the trust persisted that the leases provided stronger sets of rights that might assist with the securing of finance from banks. The centre said converting land rights into leases in fact undermined the land rights holders' security of tenure to the land.
The centre said the disputed lease agreements compelled people to fence their properties and conduct surveys on their lands, both expensive procedures, at their own cost.
They also want the court to order the Ingonyama Trust to publish and distribute a notice inviting people to cancel lease agreements already concluded.
They want the court to order the Ingonyama Trust, upon the request of any person who held or holds a PTO right in trust-held land, to cancel any residential lease agreement concluded and to restore full occupancy and use rights to the rights-holder.
They also ask that upon the cancellation of any lease agreement, the Ingonyama Trust refund all money paid by the lessee as rental under the cancelled lease agreement.