US President Donald Trump has said he asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to study South African “land and farm seizures” and “killing of farmers”, prompting Pretoria to accuse Mr Trump of stoking racial divisions.
- South African Government says Mr Trump is “misinformed”
- The ruling party announces plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation
- 59 white farmers were murdered last year
Mr Trump’s comments have inflamed an already high-octane debate over land in South Africa — a country that remains deeply racially divided and unequal nearly a quarter of a century after Nelson Mandela swept to power at the end of apartheid.
The rand currency dropped more than 1.5 per cent against the US dollar in early trade on Thursday after Mr Trump’s tweet had circulated in South Africa.
South Africa’s foreign ministry will seek clarification of Mr Trump’s comments from the US embassy in Pretoria, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman said, adding that Mr Trump was “misinformed”.
A tweet from South Africa’s official government account rejected the comment, saying the tweet “seeks to divide our nation”.
LoadingLoading‘This is political hate’
The US State Department was not immediately available for comment on Mr Trump’s tweet.
Mr Ramaphosa announced on August 1 that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation, as white people still own most of South Africa’s land.
Mr Ramaphosa has said any land reform will be conducted without an impact on economic growth or food security. No land has been “seized” since the reform plans were announced, the ANC says.
Mr Trump’s tweet appeared to be a response to a Fox News report on Wednesday that focused on South Africa’s land issue and the murders of white farmers.
Violent crime is a serious problem across South Africa, but farm murders are currently at a 20-year low.
False figures on ‘brutal murders’
In March, the plight of South Africa’s farmers caught the attention of Australian politicians recently when then home affairs minister Peter Dutton suggested white farmers were being persecuted and deserved “special attention” under Australia’s humanitarian immigration program.
Defending Mr Dutton’s comments, former prime minister Tony Abbott told 2GB’s Ray Hadley “there is a very serious situation developing in South Africa. Something like 400 white farmers have been murdered, brutally murdered, over the last 12 months”.
However, Transvaal Agricultural Union, a group representing the interests of farmers, recorded 84 farm murders in the 2017 calendar year. Of these, 59 victims were white farmers.
A further 15 people, including 8 white farmers, were killed on farms in the first three months of 2018.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to black people.
Progress has been slow and most South Africans believe something has to be done to accelerate change, providing it does not hurt the economy or stoke unrest.
“Reforming the land distribution and ownership will be good for South Africa,” said political analyst Nic Borain.
Mr Trump’s tweet came days after it was announced that his wife, Melania, would travel to Africa in October for her first major solo international trip as First Lady.
In January, South Africa protested to the US embassy in Pretoria about reported remarks by Mr Trump that some immigrants from Africa and Haiti came from “shithole” countries.
South Africa’s foreign ministry called the remarks, which sources said Mr Trump made during a meeting on immigration legislation, “crude and offensive” and said Mr Trump’s subsequent denial was not categorical.
AfriForum, an organisation that mostly represents white South Africans who have described land expropriation as “catastrophic”, travelled to the United States earlier this year to lobby the senate and other officials.