Identifying the Rot

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

One has to wonder if the rot, in the form of the corruption that has seemingly become so entrenched in our daily lives, will ever be eradicated. Or will the decay continue to spread until it eventually becomes an integral part of who we are as a nation and how, as a country, we operate?

Government, which many argue is at the core of the problem, doesn't appear to be doing anything more than paying lip service to addressing the issue by launching investigations into the growing problem. Perhaps we have missed something here, but in most people's opinions, very little, if anything happens to those criminals who move in the 'right' circles, even when they are caught red-handed.

Corruption has eroded the basic structure of South Africa. Murderers with access to ready cash are released because the murder dockets have been 'lost'. Many hospitals cannot provide basic healthcare to those who are most in need because of the dodgy awarding of tenders to friends and family who are by no stretch of the imagination capable of providing the necessary equipment or medication. Schoolchildren do not have textbooks and there are arguably thousands of ‘ghost’ government workers who draw a salary every month for doing absolutely nothing. The list goes on and on.

In a recent report, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said that he and Gauteng provincial MECs have committed themselves to reviving a campaign that invites individuals to come forward if they have any knowledge of, or have been involved in, the unlawful transfer of immovable assets belonging to the state. In other words, anyone who had illegally sold state land or property, or those who had unwittingly bought something that did not belong to the seller, should do the right thing and own up.

Amazingly, part of the problem is that although the Department of Public Works has been trying to get up to speed by creating a comprehensive and accurate register of state assets ever since this government came into power in 1994, it has admitted that it has had little success in identifying what actually belongs to the state - this, in a country that has one of the best land registration systems in the world.

The other problem is that given what happened to the residents of Lenasia who bought land from those who did not own it and had to stand back and watch while the government destroyed their homes, it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to admit to being duped. It is also highly improbable that those who sold something fraudulently are going to come forward and confess to their crimes, particularly when the pickings are so good and there appears to be little or no control.

The big question of course is now that we have identified the problem, how do we go about resolving it? An accurate register of state assets is undoubtedly a vital part of the process, but what is going to happen to the people who have bought property in good faith once it comes to light that although they have built their homes, the land on which these stand never really belonged to them in the first place? Do we demolish their homes or allow them to stay? What of the perpetrators of this heinous crime? Do we, as been done in the past, merely turn a blind eye, or do we punish those responsible harshly?

In various media reports it has been stated that the 'Bring it Back' campaign involved the threat of forensic investigations. "Where fraud and corruption is uncovered, legal action will be taken against individuals involved and steps taken to recover the properties concerned," the ministry said.

One can only hope that this is going to happen. Criminals, whether they be state officials or members of the general public, need to be made to understand that crime doesn't pay. However, until that happens - and until the state gets its land affairs in order - you can bet your bottom dollar that someone, somewhere is going to take full advantage of the chaos.

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