Picture: JOHNNY ONVERWACHT
Picture: JOHNNY ONVERWACHT

The government has set aside R3.7bn to assist emerging farmers seeking to acquire land, finance minister Tito Mboweni said on Wednesday.

“A robust debate on land is taking place in SA,” Mboweni said in his budget speech. “We are supporting private-sector investments in agriculture by emerging farmers. R1.8bn is allocated for the implementation of 262 priority land reform projects over the next three years. R3.7bn is set aside to assist emerging farmers seeking to acquire land to farm.”

Mboweni said the Land Bank will support smallholders and leverage partnerships with other financial institutions. It aims to disburse R3bn in the next fiscal year.

He  also said the government continued to support people wanting to own their own homes. Funding totalling R14.7bn over the two outer years has been reprioritised to two new conditional grants for informal settlement upgrading, which will enable these households to have access to basic amenities. The minister said the “Our Help to Buy” subsidy helps first-time home buyers purchase a home. As a pilot, it gets R950m over three years.

According to the budget review, over the next three years R887.3m will be shifted from the comprehensive agricultural support programme grant to the Land Bank to support  more emerging black commercial farmers access affordable loans.

This comes amid the raging debate over land expropriation without compensation . In December the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces adopted a contentious report that called for a constitutional amendment to make it explicit that expropriation without compensation could be used to address skewed land ownership patterns dating back to the colonial and apartheid eras.

The land debate has divided the country and agitated investors, with the proposed amendment set to be challenged in court by various stakeholders and political parties.

The matter  is likely to be processed by the next parliament after the May 2019 general elections. This means the amendment might not happen at all if the ANC and EFF fail to secure a two-thirds majority between them.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week that an expert advisory panel on the issue would submit its report in March. Ramaphosa said the government had identified land parcels owned by the state for redistribution as part of accelerated land reform.

The state has a property portfolio of more than 93,000 buildings and more than 1.9-million ha of land under the custodianship of the department of public works.

Reacting to Mboweni’s speech, EFF leader Julius Malema said the budget “doesn’t have a clear plan on land expropriation ... It is clear that the minister does not know how to take the country out of its challenges.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za