World View: South Africa Politics Roiled by Trump Tweet on Killing White Farmers

South Africa

This morning’s key headlines from

  • South Africa politics roiled by Trump tweet on killing white farmers
  • Cyril Ramaphosa defends land expropriation policy

South Africa politics roiled by Trump tweet on killing white farmers

White farmer in South Africa (Reuters)
White farmer in South Africa (Reuters)

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday reconfirmed that the country plans to go ahead with a land reform constitutional amendment that would explicitly permit confiscation of farms without compensation. The amendment is believed to be targeted at farms owned by white farmers, but some in the government dispute that.

Ramaphosa’s government was thrown into turmoil on Thursday after president Donald Trump issued a tweet condemning the land reform plan:

I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews

Trump’s tweet is based on a Wednesday evening segment by Fox News analyst Tucker Carlson, which was highly inflammatory and misstated some facts.

The South African government responded with an inflammatory tweet of its own rejecting this claim:

South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past. #landexpropriation @realDonaldTrump @PresidencyZA

According to published figures, 47 white farmers were killed in 2017, and that was a 20-year low, with a peak in 1998 of 153. Now 47 murdered white farmers might seem like a lot, and indeed it is a lot, but other published figures indicate that 30-40 people in South Africa are murdered every day.

So say what you want about South Africa – that it is a very dangerous country with a very racist population and a very high murder rate, and even mass killings across the country – but 47 in one year is a minuscule number compared to the total number of murders and is nowhere near the level of mass killings or genocide of white farmers.

This controversy has provoked the usual hysterical name-calling on the right and the left. The left claims that Trump’s tweet is racist and white supremacist, and the right claims that it proves that South Africa is racist and black supremacist.

Julius Malena, the popular young politician that heads the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), advocating land seizures without compensation, responded to Trump’s tweet on Thursday: “They will kill us for that. There’s a group of white right-wingers who are being trained by Jews in Pretoria to be snipers.” Times Live (South Africa) and CBS News and Guardian (London, 27-Jun) and The Citizen (South Africa)

Cyril Ramaphosa defends land expropriation policy

While Malena was his usual hysterical and incoherent self, other South Africa politicians said that Trump’s tweet raised valid concerns.

Government official Lindiwe Sisulu issued a statement saying that she “has noted the unfortunate comments on Twitter by [Trump].”

The South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) issued a statement pointing out that the policy of land confiscation without compensation would create enormous problems for South Africa, particularly in trying to attract investment funds:

Seen alongside South Africa’s decision to terminate its bilateral investment treaties‚ expropriation without compensation has prompted a great deal of concern about the security of their assets‚ particularly among the European investors most directly impacted.

Even President [Cyril] Ramaphosa’s investment envoys have referred to the difficulties that expropriation without compensation has created for them in attempting to attract desperately needed funds to South Africa.

Indeed, after Trump’s tweet, the rand currency weakened against the dollar by 1.7 percent, and some officials raised concerns that Trump would impose sanctions on South Africa, as he has done with Turkey. Many outside investors are concerned that South Africa will go the way of Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe confiscated white-owned farms and turned them over to his tribal cronies who knew nothing about farming, with the result was that a country that was exporting food in the late 1990s was facing almost total starvation ten years later.

Ramaphosa has been dealing with the very explosive land reform issue in South Africa, which is divided not only by race but by tribe. Black South Africans account for 91 percent of the population, but they own just 1.2 percent of the land. Since independence in 1994, attempts to acquire white-owned farms with fair compensation and distribute them to black farmers has been an almost total failure.

Ramaphosa has insisted that South Africa has learned from the experience in Zimbabwe, and it would not be repeated. On Wednesday, he told parliament that increasing access to land for the poor would happen in an orderly fashion and would initially focus on making state property available.

Ramaphosa outlined some instances where expropriation without compensation might be justified:

unused land‚ derelict buildings‚ purely speculative land holdings‚ or circumstances where occupiers have strong historical rights and title holders do not occupy or use their land‚ such as labour tenancy‚ informal settlements and abandoned inner-city buildings.

Ramaphosa insists that the proposed amendment to the constitution would prohibit “the arbitrary deprivation of property.”

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, it is highly unlikely that South Africa will ever reach the point where it is confiscating farms. South Africa is in a generational Crisis era, and an explosive racial issue like land reform is more likely to trigger a tribal war. Times Live (South Africa) and Bloomberg and Times Live

Related Stories:

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, Mike Pompeo, Julius Malena, Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF, Lindiwe Sisulu, South African Institute of Race Relations, IRR
Permanent web link to this article
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.