King takes up vast tracts of land through mysterious company

King Mswati III

King takes up vast tracts of land through mysterious company

A certain holding owned by King Mswati III is taking up much of the fallow land in the country for cattle farming and crop cultivation for his use. Where emaSwati have been found living on the land, they have been evicted, without compensation because the land is seen as private property belonging to the monarch. Silulu Royal Holdings is a relatively new company, but it suddenly owns of vast tracts land in the country, none of which are being used for the benefit of ordinary emaSwati, writes NIMROD MABUZA.

Ms Lomgcibelo and Thoko, both Dlamini, are sisters who were born two years apart, in 1950 and 1952 respectively. They grew up on Portion 26 of Farm No.692 at Nokwane in the Manzini region. After the death of their parents, they took over ownership of the homestead they had always known as their home all their lives. Until September 2014, they had lived on the property peacefully without disturbance. Throughout this time, with their hard-earned money, toil and sweat, they had built an eight room stick-and-mud house. They had also built several one-roomed houses which they rented out.

Their children also built their own houses on the property. They also derived income from a variety of fruit trees grown around their homestead. Like the 63% of emaSwati who live below the poverty line, they had worked hard to pull themselves up to lead normal lives. However, their lives changed dramatically for the worst one morning in September 2014 when heavy machinery rumbled into their homestead accompanied by armed police. It is a disputed question whether they were ordered to take out their belongings from the houses before their homestead was demolished to rubble.

The family, and whatever belongings they still had, was loaded into the back of a truck and dumped in an open space at Bethany. There was no shelter, whatsoever. Government, through then former Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, Mr Sikelela Dlamini said they were dumped in the open space because the families chose to be dumped there. As if they had an option.

At the age of 64 and 62 respectively, government expected Ms Lomgcibelo and Ms Thoko to start all over again with no compensation or some form of assistance. The only assistance they got was to transport their belongings to the open veld where they were dumped while heavy machinery destroyed their homestead.

They had to spend the night in the open.

Government claimed they were on the land illegally and, therefore, were not entitled to any compensation. This was despite them producing documentation, in the form of a letter, as proof that they were legitimately under the chiefdom of Lobamba Lomdzala. The chiefdom acknowledged they paid allegiance to it and their father had khontaed for the land. The Dlamini sisters and many others were evicted from the farm because government wanted the land for the construction of the Royal Science and Technology Park – one of King Mswati III’s projects. It turned out Ms Lomgcibelo and Ms Thoko were deprived rights to property and fair compensation as the Constitution requires.

In subsequent litigation where the sisters successfully sued government for over E300 000, it turned out the farm they settled on belonged to the king who held in trust of the Swazi nation (emaSwati). The farm was initially owned by a certain Owen – a settler popularly known among locals as Majuluka, who later sold it to government. In 2005, under Deed of Donation Transfer No. 176/2005, ownership of the farm was transferred to the king in trust of emaSwati.

This means that the farm was not the king’s personal property but belonged to emaSwati, if the definition of what it is to hold in trust, as explained by historian, Dr JSM Matsebula is anything to judge from. The Dlamini sisters are just two emaSwati, and many of them, who were rendered homeless and landless in their country of birth. Worse, they were evicted without compensation.

While scores of emaSwati like Ms Lomgcibelo and Ms Thoko remain homeless and landless following evictions, it can be revealed that King Mswati III, the royal conglomerate Tibiyo taka Ngwane, the royal household and government are sitting on vast tracts of unused land.  

Over 100 farms largely held by the king, some through the royal investment company, Tibiyo taka Ngwane and its sister company, Tisuka taka Ngwane, and the Ministry of Agriculture have not been put to good use, or at least used to accommodate the hundreds of landless citizens.

This has become a question of so much land yet none for the common people.

In its own report, the Ministry of Agriculture listed some farms as lying idle or underutilized if not home to royal cattle. A few of the farms have been completely taken over by alien plant species, notoriously known as sandanezwe. This is despite the obvious need for land for human settlement. The idle farms and those under-utilised did not escape the eye of King Mswati who is sitting on tracts of land, using some of it for keeping his cattle.

The over 100 farms have been pooled under a barely known company, Silulu Royal Holdings. The company is believed to be owned by the king and royal household.

In 2018, King Mswati III appointed Minister of Finance, Neal Rijkenberg and Minister of Agriculture, Jabulani Mabuza to the Board of directors of Silulu Royal Holdings. There are others in the board. Colins Lovely, an employee of Montigny, which is a company co-owned by Rijkenberg, was appointed general manager of Silulu Royal Holdings. Ostensibly, the farms have been pooled for increased land use. Less than a handful of farms are being rented out to farmers for various uses.

But what may come as a matter of interest is that some of the farms, in particular those owned by the Ministry of Agriculture have been designated for forestry planting and handed over to Silulu Royal Forestry Company. Some are already productive. There can only be one family enjoying proceeds from the forestry company.

As an example, the farms known as Gege Purchase Area is composed of 10 contiguous farms measuring about 10 524 hectares owned by the Ministry of Agriculture and a portion of it, only 200 hectares, is used for rearing dairy cattle. It is located in Gege.

At the time of their purchase, the farms had 170 farm dwellers with 1 900 cattle. It is mountainous and rich in water with multiple streams. The higher lying areas of the farms are to be developed by Silulu Royal Forest. Another farm, Mahlangatsha Purchase Area also comprises 10 farms of about 11587 hectares and shares a boundary with the Gege Purchase area and Highveld ranch.

It is owned by the Ministry of Agriculture. This is one of many farms to be developed by Silulu Royal Forestry Company.

There is also Farm No.977 which is owned by Tisuka Taka Ngwane measuring 227 hectares and located west of Nhlangano. The farm is to be developed by Silulu Royal Forestry Company. These are but a few of the farms designated for forestry under Silulu Royal Forestry, understood to be in a joint venture with Shiselweni Forest. When approached for comment on Silulu Royal Holdings, the Ministry of Agriculture asked for a questionnaire. One was duly sent to Mr Mabuza, the Minister of Agriculture. However, there was no response.

When the Principal Secretary of the ministry, Mr Bongani Masuku was reminded of the pending questionnaire requested that it be directed to him. This request was duly complied with. He gave an assurance that answers would be forthcoming. That was about two years ago and there has been no response from either the minister or the principal secretary.

The several farms owned by Tibiyo taka Ngwane are used for cattle and goats, owned by the king. The Groenpan farm is owned by the King’s Office and comprises three farms. It is located along the Siteki – Mhlumeni main road in the Lubombo region.

The area east of the road is used for rearing of the king’s beef cattle. The area on the western side of the road is used by an Inkhosikati for beef cattle. The farm is earmarked for commercial cattle farming for the king’s office. The farm is generally under-utilised.  There are eight staff members from the king’s office and three soldiers working there.

Killarney farm, otherwise known as Farm 195, measuring 844.5 hectares, is under the custodian of the King’s Office and Royal Swaziland Police. It is located north of Mafutseni and west of Mpisi ranch. It is home to the king’s cattle and a few cattle belonging to the police. There are 10 herdsman and a police officer who serves as the farm’s foreman. The farm is undergoing development for commercialization for cattle farming. It would serve as King Mswati III’s show farm.

Bayadla bayafufutsa baka Ngwane.

The Laaggennoeg farm, measuring 1564 hectares and the Ministry of Agriculture is its custodian. It is located south of Matsapha with the Great Usuthu and Little Usuthu rivers cutting through it. The farm is grossly under-utilised and

“The gravel road leading to the power station and OSSU police station divides the farm into a northern and southern section,” reads a brief report on the farm pooled under Silulu Royal Holdings.

Situated on the southern part of the farm is Dwaleni Farm Lodge owned by Prince Nathi. The prince is famous for rearing quality goats. Also, two chiefs have settled people on the southern portion of the farm and illegal quarrying of plaster sand is along the Usuthu river is underway.

Mtindzekwa farm is located north of Mkhaya Game Reserve and measures about 1744 hectares. It is currently home to the king’s beef cattle and is earmarked for commercial rearing of cattle for the king’s office.

The King’s Office was formerly established in 992 through an act of parliament and is responsible for running affairs of the king and the royal household.

Also, the king’s office is custodian to Mpofu Ranch known as ka-George, compises two farms measuring a total of about 5021.87 hectares. It is located along the Mandlangempisi–Msahweni road.

About 724 hectares of the farm is used by Fikanebemanti Fakudze for cattle and crop farming and the Mamba clan under Dvumukuphisa uses a portion of the farm for burial.

Mkhize Tfwala uses a portion of the farm for crop and cattle farming.

The farm is currently home to King Mswati’s cattle and goats and there 21 staff members from the KO and four soldiers. It is under threat from chromolaena – sandanezwe. A portion is used for community grazing and severely affected by sandanezwe.

Mpiva ranch located east of Maphiveni and measuring 1238 hectares is lying idle and has been so for eight years following severe bush encroachment particularly sandanezwe is owned by the ministry of agriculture.

It was initially used as a sisa ranch and quarantine station. It has now about 80 government cattle.

Nkhutshini farm in north-west of Lavumisa comprises five farms measuring about 1813 hectares is owned by Tisuka taka Ngwane. Farm 310 measuring 850 hectares is rented to Walter Bennett and the rest of the farm with infrastructure rotting away has been lying idle for 10 years.

Nkalashane I measuring 4753 hectares and owned by the ministry of agriculture has completely been taken over by sandanezwe.

These are just a few of the many farms under Silulu Royal Holdings.

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