Journey of a Changemaker: young activists report back | Land Portal
Nicky Rehbock
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The young Changemakers who won seed grants through our Land and Corruption Programme last year are making progress with their projects.

Here are their stories:

Ariel Lashansky

“In 2015 I attempted to start an NGO in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape of South Africa.  I was working at a local hospital as a medical doctor at the time and the focus of our efforts was to use football as a vehicle for education around HIV/Aids.  In the process of this we selected a local community site where we were going to start developing a nice playing pitch. The site chosen was awesome and right on the beach.

But then a certain government department intervened and claimed that this land was allocated to them for developing into an accommodation site for tourists. We heard that the construction job would be tendered out to a foreign firm and the government department would pocket the proceeds from renting out the units to visitors.

So in essence, this land, which has been under the control of the village for thousands of years, has now been pillaged. All the economic proceeds of the land are going to bypass the community completely, illustrating a system that is failing to serve the rightful owners of the land.

One of the legacies from apartheid is that these communities were never issued title deeds for their land. Despite the country achieving democracy in 1994, there has been no successful innovation in this space to formalise land tenure.

This experience made me realise that when people live amid uncertainty of not knowing whether they will be forcibly removed from their land to suit government or private interests, it saps all the motivation to develop the land into a productive asset.  

If some entrepreneur in our community wanted to develop his plot of land into a tourist facility, this project might take all of his savings and 10 years to develop. Such people are unlikely to make that commitment if their land ownership isn’t guaranteed.

We’re working to change this by mapping the land with the help of the community and build an incorruptible block chain-based land register, in partnership with a Ghanaian start-up. This can be done at a fraction of the cost of using other digital or paper-based systems. We’ve also invested in a drone and camera to obtain high-quality aerial surveys of the area.

In addition, we’re building a low-cost community centre out of sand bags and encouraging the community to get involved in permaculture, livestock or hospitality ventures using microcredit. The aim is for community members to use their newly registered properties as collateral.”

Ceaser Chembezi

“In Nakuwawa on the rural outskirts of Lilongwe, Malawi, few citizens realise that the land rights abuses they face amount to corruption. Home to about 750 people, the area’s mainstay is tobacco, maize, soy and vegetable farming. Land is an indispensable asset.

My project is working to deepen the community’s understanding of land corruption and make them aware of who to report cases to, such as the police and Ministry of Land and Urban Development. I used my grant to make large banners with anti-corruption messages and displayed them in public spaces.

As Nakuwawa is in a rural area, land administration is left to the chiefs. Despite some of the land being privately owned, and some areas under communal tenure, it seems the chiefs have the power to allocate land to whoever they want to. In one case, a local chief allegedly sold a plot of land bequeathed to two children who recently lost their parents.

My public education exercise also aimed to remind citizens of the importance of sticking to the law when buying or selling land, and sensitise chiefs around the harmful impact of selling property without the custodian’s consent.

While I was putting up one of my banners, a woman passing by who read the message told me she had been the victim of a land grab at the hands of traditional authorities. She said it made her realise that it was important to speak out and report the case. Similarly, a man who saw me putting up another banner asked me who he could report his experience of land corruption to. I told him he should go to the police or speak to the land officer at the district council.

I thought carefully about the best spots to display the banners. The first site was at a local clinic, where around 40 women bring their children to be weighed each week. There’s also a borehole and school close to the clinic. I knew it was important to get the message out to as many women as possible. Entrenched patriarchy means they often bear the brunt of land rights abuses.

In Malawi, chiefs seem to be taking advantage of the fact that citizens have limited knowledge of land administration laws. I hope my project helps give power back to citizens by arming them with knowledge.”

Hilda Liswani and Ray Mwareya

“We have used our grant to set up a project called Demand Data, which is being implemented in Zimbabwe and Namibia. We have created a blog, as well as a Twitter and Facebook page for the public to report and upload photos of areas where suspected land grabs have taken place, particularly around coal and diamond mining operations.

We’ve already received a detailed tip-off from a Zimbabwean NGO and plan to publish an investigative journalism piece about it on our blog.

To gather more evidence, we’ve held meetings with certain rural communities in Zimbabwe who have been affected by land grabbing. Some people are afraid to speak openly as corruption is a sensitive topic in Zimbabwe.

Our next challenge is to register Demand Data as a non-profit organisation in both Zimbabwe and Namibia.”

The Changemaker initiative was a joint project between Transparency International and Ashoka. It forms part of our Land and Corruption in Africa Programme, which strives to curb land corruption and achieve fair and equitable access to land for men and women in sub-Saharan Africa.
For more information contact Programme Lead Annette Jaitner:

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