US President Donald Trump 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 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% against the US dollar in early trade on Thursday after Trump’s tweet circulated in South Africa.
“I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and large scale killing of farmers,” Trump said on Twitter.
South Africa’s foreign ministry will seek clarification of Trump’s comments from the US Embassy in Pretoria, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman said, adding 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 US State Department was not immediately available for comment on Trump’s tweet.
Ramaphosa announced on August 1 the ruling ANC plans to change the constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation, as whites still own most of South Africa’s land.
Ramaphosa 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 on 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. Farm murders are at a 20-year low.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC followed a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” model under which 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 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 government will act in a way that radically destabilises investor security.”
Trump’s tweet came days after it was announced his wife, Melania, would travel to Africa in October for her debut major solo international trip as first lady.
In January, South Africa protested to the US Embassy in Pretoria about reported remarks by Trump that some immigrants from Africa and Haiti came from “shithole” 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 organisation mostly representing white South Africans who have described land expropriation as “catastrophic”, travelled to the United States earlier this year to lobby the Senate and other officials.