Deputy President David Mabuza responds to questions for oral reply in the National Assembly,Parliament in Cape Town. Picture: GCIS
Deputy President David Mabuza responds to questions for oral reply in the National Assembly,Parliament in Cape Town. Picture: GCIS

The government is finalising the identification of state-owned land and will soon publish the criteria that will be used in the redistribution of land that is suitable for farming, Deputy President David Mabuza said on Wednesday.

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

Those who question the drive to amend section 25 of the constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation say the government should focus on redistributing land it owns, some of which is unaccounted for or underutilised.

“Very soon we will make an announcement … we are looking at the pieces of state-owned land and we will set criteria how will redistribute it,” Mabuza said during a question-and-answer session in the National Council of Provinces.

“We have looked at all the land in the hands of the state, but for now we have started with land that is owned by national government and its entities, and we say this land must be utilised. We have identified for the first phase, 278 portions [over 1.5-million hectares] of land that ultimately must be redistributed to the people. We are looking at the land use, and that is in progress. The president will make an announcement.”

Mabuza said the second phase will focus on all those that have put in claims on land that is owned by government, “we will give them back free of charge”.

The deputy president said land in private hands would only be considered after parliament finalises the amendment of section 25.  

“However, right now we are accepting donated land. There are farmers who are already donating land. I want to say to our white commercial farmers that there is no need to panic, we will keep you here, but let’s remember some people were dispossessed.”

Mabuza also emphasised the need to boost post-settlement support at district level, including improving access to finance and markets for emerging farmers. “As government, over the past 25 years we have assisted small farmers but our assistance has not been consistent,” Mabuza said.

He said the government would advocate for blended finance working closely with the Land Bank.

“The Land Bank will give a loan, government will give a grant,” said Mabuza.

Responding to another question, Mabuza said close to R10bn was owed by national and provincial departments to municipalities, which compromised their ability to provide basic services. The Treasury also noted that aggregate municipal consumer debt amounted to R165.5bn as at June 2019.

“Due to escalating consumer debts, many of the affected municipalities have begun struggling to meet their own payment obligation. Of concern is the municipal debt to Eskom. According to Eskom's 2019 integrated report, total municipal area debt has continued to escalate to unacceptably high levels amounting to R19.9bn,” Mabuza said.

He said this had contributed significantly to the current crisis at Eskom.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za