The department of public works says it wants to fast-track the release of land under its control for restitution purposes.

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.

Briefing parliament’s public works portfolio committee on Wednesday, Sasa Subban, a deputy director-general at the department, said 100 properties were targeted for release before the end of the 2019/2020 financial year by all custodians. A further 100 properties should be released in 2020/2021 financial year by all custodians, Subban said.

“The North West has been identified as the province that has the largest number of outstanding settled restitution claims [93 properties]. To fast-track the restitution programme, [public works] has engaged the province to release of the identified properties,” said Subban.

All in all, Subban said there were 261 properties for settled claims, consisting of close to 142,000 ha. A total of 278 properties were earmarked for outstanding claims, comprising about 268,000ha.

In his state of the nation address earlier in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government had identified land parcels owned by the state for redistribution as part of accelerating land reform.

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

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 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 established would submit its report in March.