- Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
- President Donald Trump excited white nationalists on Wednesday when he announced that his administration would look into farm seizures and the “large-scale killing” of white farmers in South Africa.
- The issue has been promoted by right-wing groups and white supremacists around the world, and Trump took his cue from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who discussed the issue on his Wednesday night program.
- The South African government condemned the president’s comments.
President Donald Trump excited white nationalists on Wednesday when he unexpectedly announced that his administration would look into farm seizures and the “large-scale killing” of white farmers in South Africa – a disputed claim promoted by some right-wing and white supremacist groups in the country.
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.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
Trump’s tweet was prompted by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who aired a segment on his prime-time show on Wednesday condemning South African land redistribution and labeling the country’s black president “a racist.” Carlson, who has been accused of promoting a host of white nationalist talking points, attacked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for allegedly ignoring an issue Carlson said “should be getting worldwide attention.”
“In other words, ‘nothing to see here,’ says Mike Pompeo’s State Department,” the host said.
Also on Wednesday, far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones aired his own segment on the South African issue on his show Infowars.
Land redistribution and a right-wing backlash
Issues surrounding land ownership have a long history in South Africa, where black people were prohibited from owning much of the country’s land for more than 80 years.
Since the end of the apartheid era and the establishment of South African democracy in 1994, the government has purchased some white-owned land and redistributed it to black citizens in an attempt to address the inequalities between the racial groups. (Today, black South Africans make up 79% of the population, but own just 9% of the country’s land.)
Last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said he supported amending the constitution in order to seize unused land without compensation, so long as the process doesn’t “undermine the economy, agricultural production and food security.”
Right-wing and white nationalist groups, including AfriForum, a white Afrikaner rights group with 200,000 members, have pushed back against the practice and promoted a narrative of widespread “farm murders” and attacks on white farmers, many of which have not been independently verified. In fact, murders of South African farmers are at a 20-year low. Some white South Africans say attacks on farmers are intentionally underreported.
AfriForum, which has lobbied the US government to take up the cause, has called apartheid a “so-called” injustice.
White nationalists in Europe, North America, and Australia have latched on to the issue. The American right-wing conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich has called it “white genocide.”
Former Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist provocateur David Duke celebrated Trump’s tweet on Wednesday and suggested that the US should “take in” white South Africans.
The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale pointed out on Thursday that this tweet marked the first time the president has ever named the continent in a tweet – and the message was in support of white people. Some noted that Trump’s tweet came just days after he was accused by a former White House staffer of using the N-word.
South Africa condemns Trump
The South African government was not pleased with Trump’s announcement, tweeting on Thursday that it “totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.”
It continued, “South Africa will speed up the pace of land reform in a careful and inclusive manner that does not divide our nation.”
And former US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard accused Trump of seizing on the issue in order to distract from the press surrounding the criminal convictions of two of his top former aides this week.
“The President of the US needs political distractions to turn our gaze away from his criminal cabal, and so he’s attacking South Africa with the disproven racial myth of ‘large scale killings of farmers,'” the former diplomat tweeted Thursday. “This man has never visited the continent and has no discernible Africa policy.”
The president has not named a replacement for Gaspard, who left the position in December 2016.