By Valencia Talane
Since launching in January 2012 Corruption Watch has received a sizeable number of complaints implicating the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform involving abuse of power, corruption in procurement processes and bribery.
Because the majority of land changing hands between commercial farmers and formerly dispossessed communities is in the rural areas, that’s where most of these complaints from the public come from.
The greatest number of cases came from KwaZulu-Natal (35.7%), followed by Gauteng (21.4%). North West, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape all accounted for 7.1% of cases each, while 14.3% of complaints came from an unspecified location.
The type of corruption cited in most of the tip-offs involves the abuse of power by government officials (almost 65%), although there are also cases involving corruption in procurement processes and bribery of officials (14.3% in each category).
In analysing the reports we’ve received from the public, it’s become clear that Communal Property Associations (CPAs) are vulnerable to abuse by government officials.
CPAs, which are made up of community members, are set up through a government-led process in areas where original occupants are given back land that was taken from them during apartheid, as part of the restitution process of government.
The trend we’re picking up is that public officials are registering portions of land – meant to be given to a CPA as per a land restitution claim – to themselves, other public officials or private companies.
Where private companies are gaining access to the land, these are either mining companies or, in one complaint we received, a company that farms citrus.
Public officials are gaining access to these CPAs either by delaying the formation of the bodies, or dragging their feet when it comes to registering the land to the CPA. We’ve also received complaints that land reform officials are taking bribes for delaying the process of forming CPAs.
In addition, we’re seeing that when the individual laying the complaint tries to gain access to more senior officials to lay a complaint, or question why the process is taking so long, bribes are requested for an appointment.
In certain cases reported to us, CPA members are also misusing funds or illegally selling portions of the land for their personal gain. In one complaint, money received from a development agency is being used by the head of the CPA to upgrade his house, instead of going toward the development of agricultural land.
At a workshop for CPAs held in November 2012, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti acknowledged that the CPA model is open to abuse not only from within, but also by people from outside the structures. “We had to take the money from our budget, R208-million, and put a guarantee with the Land Bank to save some of you [CPAs] who sold the land [given by government],” he told the gathering.