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Liberal South African Think Tank: Trump Is Right About Land Reform

South Africa no farmers no future (David Harrison / AFP / Getty)
David Harrison / AFP / Getty

The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), a liberal think tank, endorsed President Donald Trump’s criticism of that country’s new land reform policy on Thursday, saying that the U.S. president had exposed the “damage” the policy was doing.

On Wednesday evening, President Trump tweeted that he had directed 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 was responding to a segment on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News, which included a statement by the State Department that appeared to dismiss concerns about land reform in South Africa. “President [Cyril] Ramaphosa has pledged that the land reform process will follow the rule of law, and its implementation will not adversely affect economic growth, agricultural production, or food security,” the statement asserted.

Trump’s critics accused him of racism, and fact-checkers emerged to declare he was wrong about farm killings and land reform. The South African government claimed that Trump’s tweet “seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.”

But the SAIRR agreed with the U.S. president, and said that his criticism vindicated the warnings it had been sounding for months.

In a statement, SAIRR said:

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he has directed his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to ‘study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers’ is another indication of the damage that the reckless handling of South Africa’s ‘land question’ is doing.

Expropriation without compensation (EWC) has become one of the dominant themes in the country’s politics. This has been deliberately driven by the government and ruling party, even though survey evidence has shown that land – particularly in the agrarian sense – is not a priority for South Africa’s people.

There is no guarantee that expropriations will ultimately be limited to land; once momentum begins to build, it is probably inevitable that they will extend to other spheres of the economy.

It is remarkable that South Africa’s government is apparently willing to risk its own economic interests for a policy choice that will do nothing to resolve the issues for which it is nominally being adopted.

The SAIRR did not comment on farm killings; in the past, it has been skeptical of claims that white farmers are being targeted on purpose. The topic is vigorously debated by South Africans, some of whom argue that attacks on farmers likely have decades-old political and racial motivations that are independent of the causes that drive high levels of violent crime in South Africa in general.

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