The constitutional review committee has received an unprecedented number of written submissions — at more than 100,000 — on section 25 of the Constitution dealing with property and land expropriation.

The committee has extended written submissions to June 15.

Committee co-chairman and veteran MP Vincent Smith told Business Day on Thursday that the interest from the public was "overwhelming" and he had never seen anything like it in his 19 years in the legislature.

He expected even more submissions in the coming weeks after the committee extended the deadline to June 15, giving citizens two more months to have their say on the land issue.

The extension, Smith explained, was requested by NGOs Outa and the Helen Suzman Foundation, which said the 45 days initially allocated were not enough to conduct research prior to submissions.

"It has been overwhelming. Generally, we never get more than 200 written submissions. It is normally 50 to 60 from academics, but here we have more than 80,000," he said.

The committee was mandated to review section 25 of the Constitution — and other sections where necessary — to make it possible for the state to expropriate land in the public interest without compensation.

Section 25 states, among other provisions, that property may be expropriated only in terms of law of general application, for a public purpose or in the public interest and "subject to compensation. The amount, the time and manner of payment have either been agreed to by those affected or decided or approved by a court".

In a historic vote in February, Parliament passed a motion to review the section, following an EFF motion on the land issue. The motion was in line with the ANC’s resolution at its December 2017 national conference, that land be expropriated without compensation.

Smith was moved by the public interest in the "emotive and deep" issue, but said about 64,000 of the received submissions were from an automated WhatsApp advert.

"The bulk of this, around 64,000, came as a result of a single WhatsApp group that was created to clog the system," read a statement released by the committee. More than 1,000 submissions were from Afrikaner interest group AfriForum, which has expressed its intention to fight the review at every turn.

Smith said he would have to reply to each one of the submissions, as it was incumbent on his role to do so.

There had also been a number of telephone calls made to the committee chairman by ordinary South Africans who related their anguish at having no land despite the knowledge of where their families’ "land" was. "These are raw feelings of you and I and our parents," Smith said.

Members of the public would also get an opportunity to have their voices heard when the committee embarked on public hearings from June 26 to August 6. A report back to the National Assembly was expected in late August.