South Africa, US square off over land


Colleta Dewa in Johannesburg

Diplomatic relations between South Africa (SA) and the United States of America (US) have been compromised following the US President Donald Trump’s comments relating to SA’s land expropriation without compensation.

Last Thursday, Trump sent a Twitter message instructing the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to monitor the land issue in South Africa.

"I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers," tweeted Trump.

The message triggered ire in South Africa with President Cyril Ramaphosa strongly hitting back, telling Trump not to meddle in his country’s affairs.

“I don’t know what Donald Trump has to do with South African land because he has never been here and he must keep his America, we will keep our South Africa. That is what he must do, South Africa is our land.

"South Africa belongs to all the people who live here in South Africa, it does not belong to Donald Trump; he can keep his America, when I meet him I will tell him," said Ramaphosa, in words that are similar to the famous quotation by former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe who told then British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002 to "keep his England, while I keep my Zimbabwe" at the height of Zimbabwe's land reform programme.

South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation send a message to Washington through the US Chargé d'Affaires in South Africa.

Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told the US that the government and people of South Africa were annoyed by Trump's comments regarding the land process that is already proving to be a complicated issue in the country.

“The Government of South Africa wishes to caution against alarmist, false, inaccurate and misinformed, as well as – in some cases – politically-motivated statements that do not reflect the policies and intentions of the South African government,” said Sisulu.

She also explained to the seemingly misinformed US leader that the land issue was being undertaken as a way of correcting historical injustices, adding that the process will be done within the parameters of the country’s constitution. 

“President Cyril Ramaphosa has directly addressed investors and agricultural associations and will continue this process of engagement and consultation with all stakeholders to find solutions that are in the best interests of the country, the economy and the people of South Africa.

 "President Ramaphosa has also consistently indicated that this process will be undertaken within the confines of the Constitution and in a manner that grows the economy, ensures food security, and increases agricultural production. He has also, in Parliament, underlined that the government would not support calls for the nationalisation of land,” said  Sisulu. 

Trump’s messages caused a furore across South Africa with leader of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters Julius Malema referring to Trump as a "pathological liar".

“Through land expropriation, we are forcing white people to share the land which was gained through a crime against the humanity of blacks and African people.

"Be that as it may, we must put it on record, unequivocally, that Donald "the pathological liar" Trump, we are not scared of you and your USA or Western imperialist forces. We are not the generation that is going to kneel at the statue of Western imperialism and accept to live in the indignity of black landlessness,” charged Malema.

Dr Alfonso Bere, a political analyst, told The Southern Times that the issue of land was bound to cause friction between the African continent and those who seem to have benefited from the injustice.

“Trump’s words are expected coming from a people who do not understand the pain that the African continent as a whole went through during colonisation. Now that we are moving to take charge, they make unnecessary noise. We are tired of playing second class. The time is now and Africa is not going back,” he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who was on a official visit to South Africa this week, on Tuesday pledged to support the process of land expropriation without compensation.

Addressing guests of the British High Commission in Cape Town before meeting President Ramaphosa, May said her country supports legal land reform.

"The UK has for some time now supported land reform that is legal and transparent and generated through a democratic process. I discussed it with President Ramaphosa during his visit to Britain earlier this year and will discuss it with him again later today," she said.

"I welcome the comments that President Ramaphosa has already made, bearing in mind the economic and social aspects of it. I think he's made some comments that it won't be a smash and grab approach. I think there's an opportunity to unlock investment," she said.





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