(CNSNews.com) – After a Fox News segment Wednesday night focusing on the controversial issue of land expropriation in South Africa, President Trump tweeted that he has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate.
Trump said has asked Pompeo “to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.”
Making it clear he was reacting to the piece on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the president ended the post by tagging the Twitter accounts of Fox News and Tucker Carlson.
In his show, Carlson said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has begun “seizing land from his own citizens, without compensation, because they are the wrong skin color. That is literally the definition of racism.”
Carlson then read out what he described as an “unbelievable” statement received from “Mike Pompeo’s State Department,” which said that it was “aware of these reports and have been following this issue very closely for some time.”
“South Africa is a strong democracy with resilient institutions including a free press and an independent judiciary,” the statement continued. “South Africans are grappling with the difficult issue of land reform through an open process of including public hearings, broad-based consultations, and active civil society engagement.”
“President Ramaphosa has pledged that the land reform process will follow the rule of law and its implementation will not adversely affected economic growth, agricultural production, or food security,” the statement concluded.
Twenty-four years after apartheid formally ended, the African National Congress government is scrambling to meet a long-delayed pledge to rectify the consequences of eight decades of legislated restrictions on land ownership for the black majority.
Race laws since 1913 had reserved most of the land for whites, and the implementation of apartheid laws after 1948 included the forced removal of millions of blacks, mostly to nominally self-governing “bantustans.”
Ahead of the 1994 election, the ANC’s manifesto called for the redistribution of around 30 percent of the country’s agricultural land.
Over the years since, the government sought to increase black ownership of farmland through a principle of “willing seller, willing buyer” transactions, but progress has been slow.
A government audit last year found that 72 percent of privately-held – as opposed to state-owned – farmland was owned by whites, who today comprise some eight percent of the population of 56 million.
South Africa’s constitution allows expropriation of land with equitable compensation – and in some cases, without compensation, when deemed to be in the public interest.
The latter provision is viewed as vague, and Ramaphosa, who became president in February, announced recently the government will propose a constitutional amendment “that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected.”
Eye on election
The focus on “land reform” is viewed by many as an ANC attempt to stave off a surging threat, ahead of elections next year, from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The Marxist party has been attacking the ANC from the left for not moving fast enough to undo the legacies of apartheid and meet the expectations of millions of poor blacks.
Unlike the ANC, the EFF proposes state-ownership of all land in South Africa.
“It is plain that the government is using the injustice of the historical denial of property rights to black South Africans to deflect popular anger that has arisen from the near stagnation of living standards and job creation, while seeking to use the emotions stirred up by the ‘land’ issue to unite the fractured [ANC] governing party,” Frans Cronje, CEO of South Africa’s Institute of Race Relations (IRR), said in a letter published in a Johannesburg business daily on Wednesday.
Some economists argue that the very real problems of poverty should be addressed through education and labor reforms, rather than prioritizing land reform.
A recently-released report by the IRR, which describes itself as “a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom,” suggests the ANC may focusing on the wrong issue if it wants to shore up support ahead of the election.
A survey included in the report found that jobs (38 percent) and education (26 percent) were clear priorities for black South Africans, together with crime (26 percent) and building more housing (19 percent). “Speeding up land reform” was a top priority for just one percent of black respondents.
IRR project manager Terence Corrigan warned in an article last week that the expropriation without compensation plans could end up hurting the very people they are intended to help.
“[N]o one will pay this price more harshly that South Africa’s poor and unemployed for whom the consequence will be their continued exclusion from the economic mainstream and the shrinking of the already meagre prospects for upliftment,” he wrote. “Perhaps not the intended outcome, but a predictable one.”
Tied into the debate over land expropriation is the issue of violence facing white farmers in South Africa – which Trump also mentioned in his tweet.
Violent crime is prevalent in South Africa, which has one of the highest homicide rates in the world – 33.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, which put it in tenth place globally that year. (El Salvador topped the list, with a rate of 82.8 murders, followed by Honduras with 56.5; the rate for the United States was 5.3.)
Farmers are by their nature isolated and potentially vulnerable to criminal activity including armed attacks. In the South African context, they are also often perceived to be wealthy and therefore attractive targets. Crimes against farmers have often been extremely brutal.
Of the 19,016 (UNODC figure) murders in South Africa in 2016, 71 people were murdered on farms, according to the Transvaal Agricultural Union. The 120-year-old union for commercial farmers does not differentiate in its figures between murdered farmers or farmworkers, or between white or black victims.