Australia is laying the legislative groundwork necessary to welcome persecuted South African farmers who face a targeted campaign of violence at home, the country’s top legal officer said.
Attorney-General Christian Porter pledged Wednesday to help at-risk farmers applying for visas, telling the Australian newspaper “the more South Africans in our local community the better.”
Mr Porter’s own Perth electorate of Pearce had more than 5000 South African-born residents at the last census, which recorded 2656 Afrikaans speakers living in the seat. Now he wants to welcome more.
“More than any other place in Australia, South Africans have made their home in the north coast of WA, in my electorate. They are hardworking and make a huge contribution to our local community,” Mr. Porter said.
He said over the past five years his office had helped a steady stream of South Africans with immigration issues.
Mr. Porter’s remarks follow those of Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton who wants to relax visa rules and accept 10,000 white South African farmers who are facing discrimination and violence.
.@PeterDutton_MP: the Immigration Department is looking into ‘several cases’ of white South African farmers who claim they are being persecuted in their home country.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) April 3, 2018
“I have always thought that, given their contribution, the more South Africans in our local community the better,” the attorney-general continued.
“If anyone in Pearce needs any assistance with relatives back in South Africa who are potential candidates for visa classes based on any form of persecution, or any other visa class for that matter, please contact my office and we will continue to provide every assistance.”
Mr. Dutton sparked controversy and diplomatic tensions after last month arguing the farmers needed help from a “civilised country” like Australia.
South Africa immediately rejected Mr. Dutton’s concerns, demanded a retraction and called in Australia’s High Commissioner to explain.
Farm violence is a racially charged and sensitive political issue, particularly given Pretoria’s plans to seize land from farmers without compensation.
This process began in February when Julius Malema, the controversial leader of the radical political party Economic Freedom Fighters, tabled a motion in South Africa’s parliament to allow the seizing of productive farmland without compensation.
A 2017 government audit found white people owned 72 per cent of farmland in South Africa, Bloomberg reported.
Neighbouring Zimbabwe witnessed a similar situation in the 2000s when Marxist dictator Robert Mugabe instituted a programme of mass land confiscation. Many were murdered as squatters seized white-owned farms and ran them into the ground, ultimately leading to a collapse in agricultural production and economic depression.
The push to help white South African farmers enter Australia has been supported by the former prime minister Tony Abbott, who has described the situation in South Africa as a “national crisis.”
“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,” Mr Abbott said.
The farmers were being murdered by “squatters intent on driving them off their land”, he added, and it would be a “national crisis” if the same thing were happening to Australian farmers.
“If the boot was on the other foot we would call it racism of the worst sort,” Mr Abbott said.
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