David Mabuza, front. Picture: SOWETAN
David Mabuza, front. Picture: SOWETAN

 Underused government-owned land will soon be released to expand access to land and to boost agricultural production, Deputy President David Mabuza said on Thursday.

Critics of the drive to amend section 25 of the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation often argue that the government should focus on redistributing land it already owns, some of which is unaccounted for or underutilised.

The government has a   property portfolio of more than 93,000 buildings and millions of hectares of land, which translates to about 14% of land in SA under the custodianship of the department of public works. A disputed 2017 land audit report by the department of rural development & land reform highlighted that private land ownership stood at about 94-million hectares, or 77% of SA.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in September that he had appointed an advisory panel to guide the interministerial committee on land reform, chaired by Mabuza.

Ramaphosa said the panel was mandated to review, research and suggest models for the government to implement a fair and equitable land reform process that redresses injustices of the past, increases agricultural output, promotes economic growth and protects food security.

Responding to questions in the National Assembly on Thursday, Mabuza said:  “We are co-ordinating efforts by various departments to release the land, some of which is unused.”

He echoed Ramaphosa’s assertions that there would be no land grabs.

“Our land reform programme will be conducted in a manner that takes into account the needs of the country. There will be no land grabs. Land reform is one way of expanding access,” said Mabuza. “There should be no fears that we will collapse the productive capacity of our country,” he said, adding that new farmers would be supported.

However, he conceded that the land reform drive had generated a lot of anxiety, especially among the investor community.

“There is a lot anxiety that this process might open floodgates for land grabs, undermine investments in the agricultural sector, and cause a decline in agricultural output. These concerns will be addressed and we will ensure that this process is handled with care.

“Broadly speaking, key stakeholders share our views that land reform must be undertaken within a constitutionally defined process and in a responsible manner without negatively affecting agricultural production and economic growth,” said Mabuza.

He dodged direct questions from the DA and EFF on the Bosasa scandal and whether he had received funding from external donors for his campaign to become deputy president of the ANC.

On Bosasa "the matter relates to the president, the president has answered”, he said in a reply to a question from the DA.

Bosasa, now known as African Global Operations, has been implicated in a number of alleged dodgy deals with the state. Last week, Ramaphosa disclosed that CEO Gavin Watson had donated R500,000 to his campaign to become president of the ANC.  His campaign team has said the money will be paid back.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za