President Cyril Ramaphosa said the land reform debate should not be reduced to a debate about expropriation without compensation.
He was answering questions in the National Assembly, where DA leader Mmusi Maimane asked him about the full details of the government's plan to expropriate land without compensation.
Ramaphosa highlighted the unequal distribution of land in South Africa.
"This is the historic task we have as South Africans, to address this once and for all," Ramaphosa said.
He said there will be a process of broad consultation.
"No plan!" interjected DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis.
Ramaphosa called on everyone to participate in the national debate.
"This, madam Speaker, is an opportunity to assert the transformative intent of our Constitution."
He went on to explain how Section 25 of the Constitution, the property clause, which will have to be changed to allow expropriation without compensation, is a "radical instrument" and "was conceptualised with a view that we need to change the property structure in South Africa".
"Why change it then?" interjected DA chief whip John Steenhuisen.
He then read from a news report, about how the DA's mayor in Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, intended using expropriation without compensation, with the DA applauding and the ANC laughing.
Mashaba later in a statement said the president "misrepresented the City of Johannesburg's position" on land reform.
"It is my belief that the Constitution, in its present form, is not an impediment to land reform. I do not believe a Constitutional amendment is required to achieve land reform, and I do not support expropriation without compensation."
He said his administration aimed to use existing legal framework to "expropriate hijacked and derelict buildings".
Ramaphosa said it was not revolutionary to tell people to occupy land and warned against "swart gevaar (black danger)" electioneering.
"This is the time for everyone to stop pontificating and come forward with solutions," he said.
"No plan!" several DA MPs yelled.
'You can't have both'
In his follow-up question, Maimane asked how he would reconcile expropriation without compensation, with economic growth.
"You can't have both!" he said.
"It is quite clear the honourable (DA leader) Mmusi Maimane is not listening," Ramaphosa started his reply.
He said the governing party said there must be a broad discussion on whether the Constitution should be amended or not.
"Backpaddling!" said Steenhuisen as he made a paddling motion with his hands.
Ramaphosa said they were very clear that they were not going to damage the economy or food production.
He said he had heard from Afrikaans-speaking farmers, who asked him: "Hoe kan ons help? [How can we help?]".
Ramaphosa condemned, as he did several times previously, illegal land occupations, or "smash and grab" as he called it, without answering AIC MP Lulama Ntshayisa's question on what the government will do to stop it.
'Our people are all South Africans'
He started to answer FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald's questions in Afrikaans, before switching to English and saying: "We should not be too angry, too scared, too anxious to get into this debate."
When Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota got up to ask a question, the ANC groaned and the DA applauded.
"I am very, very concerned that we suddenly no longer all are South Africans," said Lekota.
"Who are our people and who are not our people?"
"Jirrrrrr," someone muttered in the ANC benches.
"Our people are all South Africans," said Ramaphosa.
He said there was an emphasis on people who were poor and landless.
"These are the people whose lives we want to improve."
"I don't know exactly what your lack of understanding is," he said to Lekota.