Criminal syndicates and corrupt government officials have hijacked millions of rands worth of state-owned buildings and land, and are now renting out the properties to unsuspecting tenants.
While the government reportedly has properties worth over R127.7 billion across the country, the Sunday Times reports that it is unable to keep track of which land has been stolen because the register of immovable assets is in complete disarray.
According to the paper, public works minister Patricia de Lille has recognised the issue and ordered a massive overhaul of the register and action against corrupt officials behind the illegal leases and sales.
“Corrupt officials, who access the unsecured register, work with criminals to identify neglected, forgotten or vacant properties. They transfer these to third parties and then sell or lease them, earning themselves millions of rands,” a senior official said.
This involves hundreds of properties, including houses, flats, office blocks and land, they said.
Auditor-general Kimi Makwetu is set to table a report in parliament in November which will outline just how poorly managed the register is, and current state of the department’s property management trading entity.
Land expropriation without compensation
Land remains a highly-charged topic in South Africa, with the government currently working towards a scheme of expropriation of compensation.
One of the key proposals of this plan is the distribution of land that is already owned by the state.
However, this may prove difficult if the government is unable to identify how much land it currently owns and how much of it is currently sitting in the hands of criminals.
In July 2019 the National Assembly has agreed to establish a multiparty committee to introduce legislation amending section 25 of the constitution.
This committee will draw on the findings of this report as well as previous studies, and past legislation to come up with a new bill which covers the above issues.
The new committee will report back to the National Assembly by 31 March 2020, and will and be composed of 11 voting members and 14 non-voting members.
Once the bill has been finalised it will be gazetted and undergo a full public consultation process.
This means that the earliest that land expropriation can be introduced is mid-2020. However, it will likely take much longer as the bill will face intense scrutiny from the opposition parties and members of the public.