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Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to welcome you on behalf of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The topic of this conference - the debate on land and property rights - is heavily discussed in media, politics and society - basically everywhere in the country. When the De Klerk Foundation approached us to support this event, we did not have to think twice due to actuality and relevance of the issue.

Land reform - and by that I mean the debate on restitution, redistribution and tenure reform as well as on the use of land - touches so many key policy areas, for instance the agriculture sector, housing, urban and rural development and so on. It is also relevant for constitutional questions or issues of social justice. And finally it is especially related to the past of South Africa and the overcoming of the wounds which were inflicted. Many people are somehow affected by land reform and therefore everyone has his or her own perspective on the matter.

You might laugh, but even I as German have a family story to tell when it comes to the topic of expropriation of property in South Africa. In the late 1890s my great-grandfather emigrated from Hamburg to Johannesburg. After working for a local company he built up his own cardboard packaging manufacturer. Eventually the whole company got expropriated by the English after the Boer War. Without a cent in his pocket and being angry with the English he moved back to Germany, where he then met my great-grandmother and married her. No worries, I won’t claim back the cardboard packaging factory here. I guess it was quite a while ago and maybe I should call it circumstances of history. Anyways, as I learned, restitution claims can be dated back until 1913, when the Natives Land Act came into effect and my great-grandfather already had left South Africa.

Coming back to the present debate I would like to point out some important aspects:

One has to acknowledge that, yes, there is historic injustice. I would not go that far to call it an “original sin” as President Ramaphosa did. Nevertheless it was especially this Natives Land Act which disadvantaged the majority of South Africans, which could not create wealth by buying and owning land, while a minority of the population benefitted from the Act until the end of Apartheid.

Speech by Mr Henning Suhr, KAS Resident Representative
4 July 2018

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