U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to study South African “land and farm seizures” and “killing of farmers,” prompting Pretoria to accuse Trump of stoking racial divisions.
Trump’s comments have inflamed an already high-octane debate over land in South Africa, a country that remains deeply racially divided and unequal nearly a quarter of a century after Nelson Mandela swept to power at the end of apartheid.
The rand currency dropped more than 1.5 percent against the U.S. dollar in early trading Thursday after Trump’s tweet had circulated in South Africa.
South Africa to seek clarification
South Africa’s foreign ministry will seek clarification of Trump’s comments from the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman said, adding that Trump was “misinformed.”
“South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past,” a tweet from South Africa’s official government account said in response to Trump’s comments.
The U.S. State Department was not immediately available for comment on Trump’s tweet.
Ramaphosa announced Aug. 1 that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation, as whites still own most of South Africa’s land.
Ramaphosa has said any land reform will be conducted without an impact on economic growth or food security. No land has been “seized” since the reform plans were announced, the ANC says.
Trump’s tweet appeared to be a response to a Fox News report Wednesday that focused on South Africa’s land issue and murders of white farmers.
Violent crime is a serious problem across South Africa, and 47 farmers were killed in 2017-28, according to statistics from AgriSA, an association of agricultural associations. However, farm murders are at a 20-year low.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks.
Progress has been slow and most South Africans believe something has to be done to accelerate change, providing it does not hurt the economy or stoke unrest.
“Reforming the land distribution and ownership will be good for South Africa,” said political analyst Nic Borain.
“That there will be instability and worries about property rights is inevitable, but we don’t expect that the government will act in a way that radically destabilizes investor security.”
First lady to travel to Africa
Trump’s tweet came days after it was announced that his wife, Melania, would travel to Africa in October for her first major solo international trip as first lady.
In January, South Africa protested to the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria about reported remarks by Trump that some immigrants from Africa and Haiti came from “s***hole” countries.
South Africa’s foreign ministry called the remarks, which sources said Trump made during a meeting on immigration legislation, “crude and offensive” and said Trump’s subsequent denial was not categorical.
AfriForum, an organization that mostly represents white South Africans who have described land expropriation as “catastrophic,” traveled to the United States earlier this year to lobby the Senate and other officials.