“I didn't steal any land”

an interview with Kallie Kriel

Guilt (Issue II/2019)

Mr. Kriel, extensive land reform is on the horizon in South Africa. The government of Cyril Ramaphosa wants to redistribute land that was taken away from black farmers during the colonial period and the apartheid. You are an outspoken opponent of the reform. Why?

I believe that the reform is just a pretext to redistribute valuable farmland from private into public property. The government has already bought around 4,000 farms, but only few of them have passed on to private ownership. Ramaphosa and the ANC are pretending to care about ethnic relations and economic justice, but in fact they want to make white farmers scapegoats and profit themselves. In fact, there are cases where officials have given land to party loyalists and even their own family members. But even if the process wasn’t corrupt it would still be problematic.


Because it would be a catastrophe if the government would expropriate white farmers and just passed it on to people who have not yet owned much land at all. To be successful in farming people need access to capital and proper education. That would have to be guaranteed first.

So, in your view, white farmers are more successful than black farmers and therefore nothing should change?

It has nothing to do with the colour of our skin. There are also black farmers in South Africa who own big agriculture businesses. But the land should not be handed to people who don’t have the knowhow to cultivate it. That happened in Zimbabwe in 2000 and there we saw food shortages and an uptick in unemployment as a result.

After the end of apartheid in 1994, 60,000 white farmers owned 86 percent of the farmland in South Africa. The remaining less fertile areas were owned by around 13 million black farmers. This distribution has not significantly changed since then. How are black famers supposed to succeed, if they don’t get to own land?

I am not saying that we don’t need a land reform in South Africa. I am simply criticizing its implementation.

That means you are in fact agreeing that there needs to be a process through which historical injustices towards South Africa’s black community could be rectified?

Well, every claim can be justified through history if you just choose a long enough time span. In fact, the first people who settled South Africa were the so-called Khoisan. However, these were later driven away by black Central Africans who migrated towards the South – and much later, in the 17th century, also by the Dutch. But the latter also settled on uninhabited land and purchased some of it from local tribes. So the South African history is more complicated than some want to make us believe. I did not steal land and other white farmers today have not stolen land themselves either. You cannot collectively punish them. Also, nothing has been taken away from the black farmers of the present day.

But surely crimes of the past do have a real economic and social impact on the lives of the ancestors of the victims, wouldn’t you agree?

That would need to be verified in each case individually. If someone can prove that the land of his ancestors was unrightfully taken away then there has to be financial compensation. But there should not be any arbitrary expropriations of white farmers who have done nothing wrong.

an interview by Kai Schnier

similar articles

Guilt (Topic: Guilt)

“Guilt is at the heart of being human”

an interview with Bart van Es

Guilt is a recurring theme in world literature. The author Bart van Es on why it still has not lost its current relevance.


Guilt (Topic: Guilt)

“A black woman as Jesus”

in conversation with Kudzanai Chiurai

How artists are shaking up our understanding of history. 


Guilt (Topic: Guilt)

Climate sinners

by Luis Fernández-Carril

Politicians and companies like to urge people to do their bit to help the environment, creating a smokescreen for their own failure to act.


Someone else's paradise (Books)

“Giving economic policy a cultural audit”

an interview with Sigrid Weigel

In a new study, the cultural scientist Sigrid Weigel scrutinises Germany’s cultural foreign policy. 


Guilt (Topic: Guilt)

“Bringing the truth to light”

an interview with Lotte Leicht

Lotte Leicht, the EU director of Human Rights Watch, argues why is it important for victims' stories to be heard.


Guilt (Topic: Guilt)

“Then the feeling of guilt came through”

an interview with Zvi Hecker

About architecture and feeling guilty. An interview with Zwi Hecker.