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South Africa rejects Trump land 'seizure' tweet

August 23, 2018

South Africa has accused Donald Trump of trying to sow racial divisions after he weighed in on the country's land reform debate. The US president said in a tweet that farmers were being forced off their land and killed.

Donald Trump
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Everet

The South African government slammed US President Donald Trump on Thursday after he tweeted that the country's land reform meant "farm seizures" and "the large scale killing of farmers."

"South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past," the government wrote on Twitter.

"South Africa will speed up the pace of land reform in a careful and inclusive manner that does not divide our nation," it added.

Land reform in South Africa

Pompeo to probe 'large scale killings'

The governing African National Congress plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of farms without compensation in a bid to redress unequal land ownership. 

Referring to the planned reforms, Trump tweeted that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers."

Trump appeared to be responding to a segment on the conservative Fox News channel about land in South Africa and the murder of white farmers.

South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said she would be seeking clarification from the US over Trump's "unfortunate comments."

"It is regrettable that the tweet is based on false information. The minister has thus instructed the Department to meet with the US Embassy in Pretoria to seek clarification on the matter today," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Read moreWill Zimbabwe’s economic downfall be repeated in South Africa?

Controversial reforms

More than 20 years after the end of apartheid, race and land ownership in South Africa remain sensitive issues. More than 70 percent of the land is still owned by the white minority, compared to 4 percent in the hands of black farmers.

Violent crime is also a significant problem, but police figures show farm murders are at a 20-year low. According to AgriSA, an association of agricultural associations, there were 47 farm murders in 2017-18.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to speed up reforms ahead of elections in 2019 to "undo a grave historical injustice" against the black majority. He also said any reforms would be carried out without impacting economic growth or food security.

Read moreSouth Africa debates land expropriation 

AgriSA chief executive Omri van Zyl praised the government's "commitment to agriculture," stressing it was important to "find solutions together."

But AfriForum, an organization that mostly represents white South Africans, welcomed Trump's intervention and described the land expropriation plans as "catastrophic."

"We need to get international support to put pressure on the South African government to hopefully make them revisit their stance," AfriForum chief executive Kallie Kriel told the AFP news agency.

Read moreSouth Africa's land reform - a never-ending story

Trump under pressure at home

Brian Klaas, a political scientist at University College London, described Trump's tweet as an alarming example of the president transforming "Fox News commentary into American foreign policy."

Klaas told DW it could also be seen as an attempt "to pander to white nationalists and the segment of his political base that is bigoted, xenophobic or both," in the lead-up to the midterm elections in November.

South African analyst Danny Bradlow said Trump's tweet is in part a diversionary tactic.

"He wants to divert his base of supporters' attention and show them (at least the racist portion) that he understands their concerns," he told DW. "It also is potentially harmful for South Africa — this is particularly unfortunate given that the information on which it is based is inaccurate."

Trump is facing increasing pressure at home, with his former lawyer Michael Cohen and former campaign manager Paul Manafort both facing jail time.

South African political analyst Ryan Cummings said on Twitter that Trump's tweet appeared aimed at "deflecting attention to a black bogeyman while trying to outrun the long arm of the law."

The US president isn't the first politician to clash with South Africa over the issue of land. In April, Australia's former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton sparked a diplomatic spat with Pretoria when he said white South African farmers seeking asylum should receive special treatment because they faced a "horrific" situation. 

nm/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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