Trump Tweet on South African Land Reform Draws Government’s Fury


South Africa’s government on Thursday criticized a tweet by President Donald Trump in which he said he asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to study efforts to overhaul land ownership and “large scale killing of farmers” in Africa’s most-developed economy.

Mr. Trump’s overnight tweet referenced a report by Fox News host Tucker Carlson attacking the U.S. government’s stance on land reform in South Africa, which he suggested was too lax.

South Africa’s rand fell against the dollar after the tweet, and was 1.3% lower in Thursday morning trade.

The ruling African National Congress has said it plans to change the constitution to explicitly allow the expropriation of land without compensation in an effort to overcome deep inequalities in land ownership the country, which shed white-minority rule in 1994. White South Africans, who make up around 8% of the country’s population, still own 73% of agricultural land, according to estimates from farmers association Agri SA.

“South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past,” the government said in a message from its official Twitter account Thursday morning. “South Africa will speed up the pace of land reform in a careful and inclusive manner that does not divide our nation.”

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President Cyril Ramaphosa and other ANC officials have said any expropriations would be handled with care to avoid eroding property rights, food security and agricultural production.

Under South African law, land owners would also have the right to challenge any government action to take away land without compensation in court.

So far, agrarian reform has been led by voluntary sales by white farmers and other property owners to the government at market prices under a policy known as “willing seller, willing buyer.”

Mr. Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Trump’s tweet. But state broadcaster SABC news reported that the government would ask the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria for clarification on the tweet.

The U.S. has had a warm relationship with South Africa, which embraced liberal democracy and free-market policies after the end of apartheid. Last month, former President Barack Obama was the keynote speaker at celebrations of what would have been the 100th birthday of the late Nelson Mandela. But the government in Pretoria has complained about U.S. tariffs on South African steel and aluminum introduced as part of Mr. Trump’s efforts to revive manufacturing at home.

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In a question-and-answer session in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Ramaphosa criticized South African interest groups who he said “are going around spreading lies and rumors.”

“Running overseas and saying the ANC is out for land grabs. There is no such thing,” he told lawmakers. “The ANC wants to ensure that there is land reform that is going to lead to the growth of our economy and agricultural growth and if we embrace this approach we are going to restore the dignity of our people.”

Violent attacks on white South African farmers have grabbed headlines in local and foreign media in recent years, prompting protests from farmers and white Afrikaner interest groups. A study released in June by Agri citing police crime statistics said that the number killed on farms has declined over the past 20 years, and reached a low of 47 people killed in 2017/18.

The number of attacks on farms — including crimes such as rape, robbery and causing bodily harm — has increased over the past two years, counting 561 attacks in 2017/18, but is still far off a 2001/02 high of 1,069 attacks.

Gabriele Steinhauser

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