A KwaZulu-Natal induna who challenged annual taxes imposed on his community by the Ingonyama Trust has raised the ire of the area's inkosi, who allegedly benefits from the money.
A fallout between induna Gideon Sithembiso Mthembu and Inkosi Themba Mavundla in Hlomendlini village in Izingolweni, which is part of the Ugu District, has caused rifts between neighbouring villages.
Hlomendlini village falls under ward 35 along with nine other villages in the area, all of which Mavundla governs. The ward is made up of a combination of private and land administered under traditional authority by the beleaguered Ingonyama Trust.
At the heart of the matter is a decision made by Mthembu to protect his community from paying fluctuating taxes on Ingonyama Trust land, which is governed by amakhosi. King Goodwill Zwelithini is the trust's sole trustee.
A panel established in 2016 assessed laws passed by Parliament and made recommendations on land reform, among other things. It suggested dissolving the Ingonyama Trust. The working group on land reform, redistribution, restitution and security of tenure, which looked at KwaZulu-Natal, stated in its section of the report: "The Ingonyama Trust is busy campaigning to make people pay leases on land for which their grandparents paid, thereby taking people back to the apartheid era."
"The people have nothing," the report went on. "Minerals belong to the government, people live under difficult circumstances, they are told that the land belongs to the Ingonyama Trust ... If people want to build houses in the area, they are told that the land belongs to the traditional leaders."
Residents are wary of the power given to izinduna, calling them "corrupt ... arrogant and [unable to] understand socioeconomic conditions". Rent on this land rises by 10% a year, which is increasingly difficult for people to pay, and businesspeople pay high fees in villages under the Ingonyama Trust's control.
"People need to be educated on policy formulation and the legislative process," the report recommended. This will "enable them to actively participate in the legislative process to ensure that relevant laws are reviewed, including the Constitution, if needed".
The trust was established in 1994 as a way for trustees to act as custodians of land previously administered by the KwaZulu-Natal government. It comprises about 30% of the acreage in the province.
The induna's problems
Mthembu's problems began when he was appointed as induna in 2010. "[The taxes] are unfair and all I want from [Mavundla] is for him to do the right thing. People were paying R30 per year to live in the community and that has increased to R50. He was charging people R200 to build a house for their children, even though the families are from the community."
The fee to build on the land administered by the Ingonyama Trust has since been raised to R1 000 from R200. Mthembu has urged the community to pay only R300. No one knows where these fees go or what the money is used for.
"We [Mavundla and I] do not get along because I decided to disregard his ridiculous taxes and side with the community. I think he needs to be investigated because he is not even a real chief, he got that position in a corrupt manner," alleged Mthembu.
When Mthembu was appointed, there was a simmering leadership battle because Mavundla did not want an induna from the Mthembu clan. But the community appointed him anyway. Initially Mthembu, a retired police officer, and Mavundla enjoyed a good working relationship. But things quickly soured.
"At the tribal council, I had an adviser who died, and he was replaced by someone else and that person came [up] with his own rules," said Mthembu, who did not agree with the new rules. Along with the community, he removed the adviser from his position, much to Mavundla's disapproval. "He came to the community but the matter was never resolved. All the other problems followed. I was told never to set foot [in] the chief's house."
In 2016, Mavundla allegedly went to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to report Mthembu in a bid to get rid of him. The community wrote a letter defending their induna and complaining about Mavundla.
Mthembu was summoned to the department's offices. "When I got there, there were 15 accusations levelled against me, all of which were fabricated by Mavundla. The officials who were charging me admitted it was all lies. They would not be removing me from my position because I was appointed by the community and only they could remove me."
In 2018, then KwaZulu-Natal Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) member of the executive council Nomusa Dube-Ncube said 95% of the R572 million allocated to the departments' traditional affairs branch went to paying salaries for izinduna, secretaries of traditional councils and support staff for amakhosi. The bulk of the money went towards paying izinduna. But this is not the case for Mthembu, who claims that since assuming the position, he has not been paid the monthly stipend.
The people speak
Resident Rejoice Sikobe, 29, said her family was tired of the taxes imposed on the community. "When we have traditional ceremonies at home we have to pay, and [Mavundla] sends his 'police officer' from the tribal authority to monitor the event." Apparently, he dictates what people should eat and drink at these ceremonies. "If he visits your family, he demands to leave with a sheep. It is supposed to be the other way around. He is supposed to leave families with something because they are poor."
Sibonge Mthembu alleged that Mavundla had usurped the position of inkosi. The 70-year-old said there was a long-standing feud between the Mavundla and Mthembu clans. "He has banned the Mthembu clan from building or extending their homes in the community." The Mthembu clan formed the Nhlapo Commission, which investigated how Mavundla became inkosi. According to Mthembu, the commission found that Mavundla imposed himself on the community because of his political connections.
"[The tribal council] are now trying to sweep the matter under the carpet. We even reported [it, but] Cogta has never helped us as a community," claimed Mthembu.
Uvolwakhe Gumbi, 57, who hails from the neighbouring village of Shibe, said the problems facing Hlomendlini were not unique. "The only difference between us and them is that they have an induna who stands up for them ... We know Mavundla does not set foot in Hlomendlini, but he comes to our village and uses our induna to collect taxes from us." Gumbi said the village had tried to remove their induna but with no success.
"We wrote a letter to the chief informing him that we no longer wanted our headman, and he basically ignored it. We also tried to establish an independent committee to deal with issues, but the tribal authority shut it down." Gumbi said the conflict between Mthembu and Mavundla had created a rift between the 10 villages.
A law unto themselves
Ward 35 councillor Hlomukile Mbatha said she had tried to work with Mavundla on matters of service delivery but it had been difficult to do so. "The problem is that the ward is too big, and it consists of both private and tribal land. This makes it difficult to provide services. I am not an expert on land issues and when people come to me with complaints about land, I refer them to Inkosi Themba Mavundla." Mbatha admitted she had a strained relationship with Mavundla because she cares about the Hlomendlini area.
Director of the Rural Women's Movement Sizani Ngubane commended Mthembu for standing up for what was right in his community. "There aren't many headmen who stand up for their communities and speak truth to power. When you decide to stand up, you are seen as the enemy."
Ngubane said this was because the majority of the amakhosi in the province were benefiting financially from exploiting people living in rural areas. "Some amakhosi are in cahoots with the Ingonyama Trust in oppressing the poor. Of the 301 amakhosi in KwaZulu-Natal, how many give land to women? I know of only three who do this," said Ngubane, who added that it was a shame that amakhosi had been allowed to be a law unto themselves.
Neither Mavundla nor KwaZulu-Natal Cogta spokesperson Lennox Mabaso had responded at the time of publishing, despite several attempts to reach them.