April 5, 2002

SOUTH AFRICA: Zulu king taken to court

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has leased more than 3.000ha of tribal land to a development company to build a game reserve, leaving more than 130 of his subjects and their families homeless.

Zwelithini, the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust, is now at the centre of a court battle between the company and the residents of the Mabaso tribal area, near Sodwana in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The Ingonyama Trust was set up in 1994 to administer about 2,7-million hectares of tribal land belonging to the former KwaZulu-Natal government. It was administered by a board that was chaired by the Zulu monarch or his nominee for the benefit of the community. But instead of benefiting them, residents have now been ordered to vacate their ancestral land to make way for the Mabaso Game Reserve - a joint venture between a local chief, Justice Nxumalo, and a black empowerment consortium, Uthungula Resorts and Leisure.

The families, with the help of human rights lawyer Jenny Wild, have now approached the Pietermaritzburg High Court to have the eviction declared unlawful.

Most of the homesteads have already been demolished to make way for a 3 m-high fence on the game reserve. Residents resisting eviction have been allegedly assaulted or arrested or had their property damaged.

The court application has also opened a can of worms with allegations of nepotism being levelled against the KwaZulu-Natal land claims commissioner, Thabi Shange, and allegations that Owen Greene, who was the chairman of the trust until October last year, is being paid by Uthungula Resorts and Leisure. Greene, a surveyor and land developer, is alleged to have concluded the controversial agreement between the trust and Uthungula Resorts and Leisure. Greene admitted to working for Uthungula Resorts and Leisure but said that he saw no conflict of interest.

In court papers this week, a board member of the trust, Warren Raubenheimer, said the Zulu monarch was the sole trustee. "Greene was the chairman of the trust until October 13 last year," he said. "Since that day he has not been a member of the board nor has he had any official dealings with the trust.

"The trust holds the land in question on behalf of all the subjects of the Zulu kingdom," he said. "In exercising any of its obligations, the trust has always been mindful of the effect that any development of the land might have on the communities. It has ensured that the rights of the communities are upheld." He said the trust had no knowledge of the eviction of the residents, nor had it sanctioned it.

In her founding affidavit, Wild said Shange had intervened in the game reserve dispute in her personal capacity. "Shange is reported to have employed her relatives as corporate fronts to undertake so-called 'impact studies' with respect to the determination of these land claims. "There is the perception that it is the amount of money which either side can pay to these relatives of Shange which will secure the type of outcome that they seek in the land claims hearing." Shange has denied the allegations and her involvement in the land saga.

Commenting on Greene's involvement, Wild said the land developer had a "gross conflict of interest" in the dispute. The application was adjourned indefinitely this week.

Zwelithini confirmed that he was the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust but he refused to comment on his subjects being thrown off the land. "I don't think I need to comment on that at this point in time, really," he said. (Sunday Times)

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