The government has identified land parcels owned by the state for redistribution as part of accelerating land reform, President Cyril Ramaphosa said during his state of the nation address (Sona) on Thursday night.

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

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

“Strategically located land will be released to address human settlements needs in urban and peri-urban areas,” Ramaphosa said during the Sona.

He said SA still had large areas of underutilised or unproductive land.

This is amid a raging expropriation without compensation debate. In December, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) 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 debate on the issue has polarised the country and spooked investors, with the proposed amendment set to be challenged in court by various stakeholders and political parties.

The matter could eventually be processed by the next parliament after the elections, which will take place in May. This means the amendment might not happen at all if the ANC and EFF fail to secure a two-thirds majority between them.

Ramaphosa said an expert advisory panel he established would submit its report in March.

“Our policy and legislative interventions will ensure that more land is made available for agriculture, industrial development and human settlements. I wish to commend the many South Africans who participated in the work of the Constitutional Review Committee in the dialogue that ensued through the length and the breadth of the country,” the president said.

“Alongside this constitutional review process, we tasked the deputy president to lead the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform to fast-track land reform. An advisory panel of experts headed by Dr Vuyo Mahlathi, established to advise government on its land reform programme, is expected to table its report by the end of March 2019,” Ramaphosa said.

He said the potential of agriculture in SA for job creation and economic growth still remained largely underdeveloped.

“There are about 250,000 small emerging farmers who are working the land and need support in fully developing their businesses. Agricultural exports are an important source of revenue for our economy, and developing our agricultural sector is key to enhancing our food security and for attracting investment…. Through an accelerated programme of land reform, we will work to expand our agricultural output and promote economic inclusion,” Ramaphosa said.

He said as part of the stimulus package in agriculture, the government invested significantly in comprehensive farmer development support to ensure that restituted and communal land was productively used.