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By Thabo Makwakwa
First published on IOL

Efforts to tackle corruption in the land sector received a boost as Corruption Watch intensified its work in enhancing whistle-blower tools and directly engaging communities to end land theft.

Speaking to the Daily News on Tuesday, project leader and senior researcher at Corruption Watch (CW) Melusi Ncala said his visit to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) was partly to build whistle-blower tools and enhance mechanisms for tackling land corruption.

“Unearthing corruption in Africa requires practical tools and this is based on how whistle-blowers are victimised and killed in South Africa. We want to build a comprehensive tool that will deal with the theft of land.

“We are conducting research focused on loopholes that allow corruption to occur in the land sector so that people may understand how the land theft occurred. We need to ensure that people understand the legislation and policies so that they may not be exploited even by the government officials who take advantage of vulnerable community members who have little knowledge about the land sector,” said Ncala.

His organisation intended to undertake a “deep dive looking at experiences of people living on the farms”. He stated that KZN and the Western Cape were provinces they would pay attention to.

“Women are victimised in the land sector, and this does not make it to the public, so we need to ensure their protection because they are often stripped of their rights, and their land was taken away by men who would claim that they are the real owners of that particular land,” said Ncala.

He said CW this week met with community members in Umlazi as well as in the Bhambayi area near Phoenix.

In 2019, CW launched a report titled Unearthing Corruption in the Land Sector, as part of an ongoing Transparency International project, Land Corruption in Africa. One of the project’s objectives is to understand the impact of corruption on land tenure or ownership with a specific focus on vulnerable groups, including women and children.

In the report, it was indicated that KZN had the most corruption cases and that one of the key contributing factors to the crime in South Africa was the lack of anti-corruption oversight by independent bodies in land administration, along with the lack of consequences for abuses of power in the sector.

In his scholarly article published in 2021, a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Rhodes University, Gaopalelwe Mathiba, quoted the Expert Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture: “There is growing evidence of corruption of various kinds in land reform … some of this information is in the public realm. This pattern has been confirmed by Special Investigating Unit investigations and proclamations.”

He argued that this was fundamentally driven by an absence of clear policies, strong institutions, transparency, public participation, and inadequate resources. Mathiba felt that improved land governance was key to ensuring the ultimate success of the land reform project.