The United States has warned South Africa that seizing land without compensation risked sending the country down the wrong path.
South Africa accused US President Donald Trump on Thursday of stoking racial divisions in a late-night tweet in which he said he had asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to study South African “land and farm seizures” and the “killing of farmers”.
Washington's charge d'affaires in South Africa, Jessye Lapenn, was summoned by the ministry of foreign affairs over the tweet, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Trump’s comments inflamed an already heated debate over land ownership in South Africa.
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.
“The expropriation of land without compensation, our position is that would risk sending South Africa down the wrong path,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Thursday.
“We continue to encourage a peaceful and transparent public debate about what we consider to be a very important issue in South Africa,” she said.
“If policies are poorly implemented, there are potentially detrimental political, socio-economic and other issues.”
This was in response to a local journalist who asked her if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took Trump’s tweet “seriously at all” because the journalist had not been able to find any reference to what the president had said in the department’s human rights report for South Africa.
“In fact, when it talks about discrimination, it says most of it is directed at blacks and the incidents of racism that it points out are all directed at blacks as well,” the journalist told Nauert.
Nauert said Pompeo and Trump “certainly discussed it”. Later on, she said Pompeo would take a look at the issue, just as he had discussed with the president.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced earlier this month that the ANC plans to change the Constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation.
Writing in the London-based Financial Times on Thursday, Ramaphosa said: “This is no land grab. Nor is it an assault on the private ownership of property.”
He has said any measures would not hit economic growth or food security. No land has been “seized” since the reform plans were announced, the ANC said.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said Trump was “misinformed” and the foreign ministry would seek clarification from the US Embassy in Pretoria.
“South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past,” a tweet from the official government account said.
At public hearings, suggestions for expropriation included unused land, derelict buildings, circumstances where occupiers have strong historical rights, informal settlements and abandoned inner-city buildings, Ramaphosa wrote on Thursday.
And he said that South Africa would not make the same mistakes that other countries have made.
“All of us would be concerned if they went the direction that Zimbabwe did. Right now it’s just a proposal in Parliament,” US Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Africa subcommittee, said.
- Additional reporting by News24