Trump’s tweet echoes the agenda of supremacy

An­tag­o­nis­tic US pres­i­dent walked into a mine­field when he tweeted about South Africa’s land is­sue, writes Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Norimitsu Onishi

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - TECH -

LIKE SO many of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s late-night tweets, this one was in­spired by a seg­ment on his favourite ca­ble chan­nel, Fox News.

But when Trump an­nounced on Wed­nes­day night that he was di­rect­ing his sec­re­tary of state to scru­ti­nise what he said was the tar­get­ing of white farm­ers for land seizures and “large-scale killing” in South Africa, the pres­i­dent waded into a com­plex and po­lit­i­cally charged de­bate.

And in do­ing that, he em­braced a com­mon talk­ing point among white su­prem­a­cists who claim white geno­cide is be­ing per­pe­trated in South Africa and around the world.

The pres­i­den­tial tweet ap­peared to be the cul­mi­na­tion of a lengthy lob­by­ing ef­fort by a South African group that falsely claims white farm­ers are be­ing sys­tem­at­i­cally forced off their land and killed in large num­bers. Its lead­ers trav­elled to Wash­ing­ton this year to press their case.

The de­bate over land own­er­ship has en­gulfed

South Africa, where a pro­posal to seize land from white farm­ers has roiled a coun­try still strug­gling with the ef­fects of apartheid and widespread eco­nomic in­equal­ity.

White res­i­dents, who con­sti­tute about 8% of the pop­u­la­tion, own about 70% of the pri­vate farm­land, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures.

And Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa an­nounced this month that the ANC would move ahead with a pro­posal to change the Con­sti­tu­tion and al­low the ex­pro­pri­a­tion of some prop­erty with­out com­pen­sa­tion.

The gov­ern­ment has said that the move was nec­es­sary to deal with long-stand­ing in­equities.

Only un­used land would be sub­ject to seizure, it added, sug­gest­ing that land that is be­ing ac­tively farmed would be safe.

But op­po­nents of the plan in­clude groups who have said that forced ex­pro­pri­a­tions were al­ready hap­pen­ing and that white farm­ers were be­ing killed in alarm­ing num­bers.

Trump’s seem­ing en­dorse­ment of that nar­ra­tive drew re­bukes and ju­bi­la­tion on Thurs­day.

Anti-hate or­gan­i­sa­tions called his tweet racist and ir­re­spon­si­ble, while the al­ter­na­tive right and white su­prem­a­cists said it was an over­due and coura­geous recog­ni­tion by the pres­i­dent of a grave in­jus­tice.

“This is the pres­i­dent of the United States tak­ing up a nar­ra­tive and an idea that has ex­tremely strong res­o­nance among white su­prem­a­cists – that with de­mo­graphic change all over the world, there is a geno­cide of whites that is get­ting worse, where mi­nori­ties are lit­er­ally try­ing to wipe out and dis­pos­sess white peo­ple,” said Heidi Beirich, who mon­i­tors hate groups at the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­tre.

Mike Peinovich, a white su­prem­a­cist whose pod­cast is called “The Daily Shoah” called the pres­i­dent’s tweet about South Africa “very big”.

He said on Twit­ter, “It may seem like a small thing, but this is how we slowly chip away at the all-con­sum­ing anti-white dis­course. Let’s hope this is fol­lowed with ac­tion.”

Kal­lie Kriel, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of AfriFo­rum, said Trump’s comment had been a “huge step for­ward” for his or­gan­i­sa­tion.

On a tour of the US this year, Kriel met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of con­ser­va­tive think tanks in Wash­ing­ton, in­clud­ing the Cato In­sti­tute and the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, as well as an aide to Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and of­fi­cials at the US Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment.

Dur­ing the trip, Ernst

Roets, the group’s deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive, ap­peared on Tucker Carl­son Tonight on Fox – part of Trump’s ca­ble news diet.

There he and Kriel met

John Bolton, Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, and snapped a photo with him that Kriel posted on Twit­ter, mar­vel­ling at their “luck”.

He said they had given Bolton a copy of Kill the Boer, Roets’s book that claims the gov­ern­ment has been com­plicit in killing white farm­ers. It also ar­gues, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial web­site, that “a loom­ing process of eth­nic cleans­ing should be re­garded as a se­ri­ous threat and some­thing to be pre­vented.”

On Thurs­day, the White House did not re­spond to re­quests for comment on what had prompted Trump to tweet about the is­sue. But the pres­i­dent’s post came af­ter Carl­son broad­cast a seg­ment on his show about the land own­er­ship dis­pute in South Africa.

He re­ported that land seizures were al­ready well un­der way and blasted the sec­re­tary of state, Mike Pom­peo, for is­su­ing what he called an “un­be­liev­able” state­ment that called the mat­ter a “dif­fi­cult” one with­out crit­i­cis­ing Ramaphosa’s ap­proach.

Min­is­ter of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, Lindiwe Sisulu, de­scribed the tweet as “re­gret­table” and “based on false in­for­ma­tion”. The gov­ern­ment said it would seek clar­i­fi­ca­tion from the US Em­bassy.

The State Depart­ment con­firmed on Thurs­day that the chargé d’af­faires in South Africa – the top-rank­ing diplo­mat be­cause Trump has yet to nom­i­nate an am­bas­sador – had met with its of­fi­cials in the wake of Trump’s comment.

Heather Nauert, the depart­ment’s spokesper­son, laboured to steer clear of the racial over­tones of the pres­i­dent’s state­ment.

She said Trump had dis­cussed the is­sue with Pom­peo and “asked the sec­re­tary to look closely at the state of ac­tion in South Africa re­lated to land re­form”.

“The ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land with­out com­pen­sa­tion, our po­si­tion is that that would risk send­ing South Africa down the wrong path,” she said, re­fus­ing to say whether the State Depart­ment be­lieves it is hap­pen­ing.

Asked whether Pom­peo had cor­rected Trump on the state of af­fairs in South Africa, Nauert said, “We never get into the pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions be­tween the sec­re­tary and the pres­i­dent.”

Pa­trick Gas­pard, the US am­bas­sador to South

Africa dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, said that with his tweet, Trump had “walked right smack into some of the most su­per­charged pol­i­tics that ex­ist in any of our bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships any­where around the globe”.

“Here you have a pres­i­dent of the US who is traf­fick­ing in a white su­prem­a­cist story line and talk­ing point that has caused in­cred­i­ble dam­age in the coun­try, in the re­gion, and that is eas­ily dis­proved,” Gas­pard said.

“We have seen too many in­stances where Trump cabi­net of­fi­cials and his ad­min­is­tra­tion have shifted pol­icy based on the lat­est ir­re­spon­si­ble, and in this case rep­re­hen­si­ble, tweet by the pres­i­dent, and so I hope the State Depart­ment re­sists that in this case,” Gas­pard added.

The num­ber of killings of farm­ers, in­clud­ing farm­work­ers, in South Africa is at a 20-year low, 47 in fis­cal year 2017-18, ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished in July by AgriSA.

That is down from 66 dur­ing the pre­vi­ous fis­cal year. The fig­ures were con­sis­tent with a steady de­cline of violence since a peak in 1998, when 153 were killed.

But in an in­ter­view on Thurs­day, Kriel claimed that the killings of white farm­ers were un­der-re­ported and said with­out ev­i­dence that white farm­ers were “three to four times” more likely than the av­er­age South African to be killed.

The AfriFo­rum of­fi­cials were not the first South Africans to visit the US.

Last year, two mem­bers of a white Chris­tian sur­vival­ist group called the Suid­lan­ders toured the coun­try for six months, meet­ing with con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian or­gan­i­sa­tions, politi­cians and dooms­day “prep­pers” and ap­pear­ing on talk shows such as In­fowars, which cir­cu­lates con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

The trip was “a con­certed strate­gi­cal cam­paign” to raise money and “raise aware­ness of and sup­port for the Cau­casian Chris­tian con­ser­va­tive volk of South Africa”, said Si­mon Roche, a spokesper­son, adding, “There’s a nat­u­ral affin­ity with con­ser­va­tive white Amer­i­cans.”

Re­gard­ing them­selves as the world’s largest non-state civil de­fence force, the Suid­lan­ders have more than 130 000 mem­bers and con­sider civil war im­mi­nent in South Africa.

The group has drawn up plans to evac­u­ate whites to a re­mote part of the coun­try and “stand and fight and die, if that’s what’s nec­es­sary”, Roche said.

Among the Amer­i­cans whom Suid­lan­ders met with dur­ing their trip, Roche said, was David Duke, the for­mer Ku Klux Klan grand wiz­ard who has been vo­cal in his sup­port for Trump, and who re­cir­cu­lated the pres­i­dent’s tweet on Wed­nes­day night, ap­pend­ing a “Thank you!”

Trump’s comment was “a nat­u­ral re­sult of our cam­paign, but to some ex­tent also a snow­ball ef­fect” from other lob­by­ing, Roche said.

The idea that whites face the pos­si­bil­ity of geno­cide in Africa has gained fresh cur­rency in the US in the years since the shoot­ing in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 car­ried out by Dy­lann Roof, a white su­prem­a­cist who posted a racist man­i­festo on a web­site called The Last Rhode­sian.

It in­cluded pho­to­graphs of Roof wear­ing a jacket bear­ing patches dis­play­ing the greenand-white flag of Rhode­sia, a formerly white-run colony of Bri­tain now known as Zim­babwe – as well as a South African flag.

The shoot­ing ap­peared to set off a wave of nos­tal­gia for Rhode­sia in al­ter­na­tive right and white su­prem­a­cist cir­cles, where the no­tion that white peo­ple must wage a vi­o­lent strug­gle to beat back an on­slaught led by blacks is preva­lent.

This year, in in­ter­views about their pro-Rhode­sian views, far-right so­cial me­dia per­son­al­i­ties brought up the plight of white South African farm­ers, re­peat­ing the false nar­ra­tive that their land was be­ing forcibly taken and that they were be­ing mur­dered in large num­bers.

They drew a direct line be­tween the fall of Rhode­sia and what they be­lieve is hap­pen­ing in South Africa now.

On Tues­day, ra­dio host Michael Sav­age posted a pe­ti­tion on his web­site call­ing on Trump to give im­mi­gra­tion pri­or­ity to white South African farm­ers flee­ing “vi­o­lent con­fis­ca­tion of their lands”.

“The white South African pop­u­la­tion cur­rently faces eth­nic cleans­ing and per­se­cu­tions” at the hands of the ANC gov­ern­ment, the EFF party and “var­i­ous in­di­vid­ual anti-white ag­gres­sors”, said the pe­ti­tion, which cir­cu­lated on Storm­front, a white su­prem­a­cist in­ter­net fo­rum. – New York Times News Ser­vice

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa an­nounced this month that the ANC would move ahead with a pro­posal to change the Con­sti­tu­tion and al­low ex­pro­pri­a­tion of some prop­erty with­out com­pen­sa­tion. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said this week he was di­rect­ing Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo to scru­ti­nise what he said was the tar­get­ing of white farm­ers for “land seizures” in South Africa.

PIC­TURE: EPA

Peo­ple at a rally in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia. US Pres­i­dent Trump gained sup­port from many white nationalist groups for his re­cent com­ments on South Africa.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.