Dominion: Land Grab in the Name of Conservation

This collaborative multimedia project uses forensic data analysis, satellite/drone imagery and investigative sleuthing to follow the missing millions in South Africa's most expensive land reform deal.

What happened to the money in the MalaMala land settlement? Details of the R1,1-billion (~$75m) out-of-court settlement in 2013 between the South African government and the luxury MalaMala private game reserve in the greater Kruger National Park have never been revealed. Who were the beneficiaries? How was the money supposed to be spent? Has it been spent? And what are the knock-on effects for other conservation land claims? The claimants still live in impoverished rural villages, with potholed gravel roads, no piped water, no schools, and no income. 

Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism has been following MalaMala’s secret millions since 2015 when access to information requests were simply ignored and the lawyers who drew up the beneficiary lists said their computers had crashed. The deal enabled the original owner of the reserve to continue managing it, in partnership with an international business consortium and community representatives. In July 2018, Parliament ordered a forensic investigation into the deal, and in May 2019 a High Court judge ordered the government to verify who the beneficiaries are, release the financial records, and find out where the money is. Oxpeckers' reportage explores where the money went, and the implications for other land settlements in and around Kruger – at least 25% of which is under claim by communities forcibly removed during apartheid.

Beyond Parachute Journalism

Instead of grabbing the story and rushing away to publish, the Conservation Capture multimedia collaboration helped remote rural community members participate in the project.

Conservation Capture

Dividends of South Africa’s biggest land claim settlement are benefiting less than a third of intended recipients. What does this mean for ecotourism on community land bordering the Kruger National Park?