U.S. President Donald Trump departs after awarding a Medal of Honor posthumously to Air Force Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) will today meet with the US Embassy to address the tweet from United States President Donald Trump on land expropriation and crime in South Africa… which the American leader referred to as “farm seizures” and “large scale killing of farmers”.

U.S. President Donald Trump departs after awarding a Medal of Honor posthumously to Air Force Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

While some people welcomed Trump’s tweet, many South Africans have been outraged.

The rand dropped more than 1.5 % against the U.S. dollar in early trade on Thursday after the tweet had circulated in South Africa, before trimming its losses.

DIRCO Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said Trump’s comment was “unfortunate” and it was “regrettable” that the tweet was based on false information.

The tweet appeared to be based on a Fox News report, as Trump quoted Fox reporter Tucker Carlson, saying: “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” Fox’s report was based on a City Press article claiming two Limpopo game farms were due to be expropriated following a breakdown in negotiations over sale price.

Minister Sisulu will also communicate with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on the matter through diplomatic channels, DIRCO said in a statement today.

Trump had tweeted in the early hours of Thursday morning that he had asked Pompeo to “closely study” expropriation and “killing of farmers” in South Africa.

SA’s official government account tweeted Thursday: “South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.”

Screenshot from Google

SA Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane also announced today that President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee to coordinate and implement measures to accelerate the redistribution of land, extension of security of tenure, provision of agricultural support and the redress of spatial inequality, within a broad and comprehensive land redistribution and agricultural development programme.

Deputy President David Mabuza will chair the Inter-Ministerial Committee.

“We view the issues on land as very important matters related to the future of this country for economic growth, transformation, reconciliation and for the restoration of the dignity of all South Africans,” Mokonyane said.

She said no nation would want the status quo to remain if it were to improve social imbalances amongst its people.

Yesterday President Ramaphosa announced during a Parliamentary Q and A session that the pace at which land expropriation is taking place requires a change of gear.

Mokonyane said today that concerted efforts would continue to be made to provide support to farmers so that they can continue to play their role in growing the agriculture sector and maintaining food security.

Improved communication with the rest of the world…

DIRCO, BrandSA and the Departments of Trade and Industry and Agriculture will, as mandated, communicate to the world, the South African government’s position on land reform… in order to perhaps avoid late night tweets like Trump’s.

“It is on that basis that the President has set-up an Inter-Ministerial Committee. Brand SA has been doing a lot of work in Australia and the UK, and we are sending information to our different missions.”

She said more briefing will take place with Ambassadors as well to ensure “a better understanding and an appreciation that we have a responsible government with good intentions for the prosperity of South Africa“.

The South African government has reiterated its commitment to a fair and sustainable land restitution and redistribution process.

Reuters pointed out that 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.

Ramaphosa announced on 1 August that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation, as whites still own most of South Africa’s territory.

White people in South Africa reportedly make up 8.9 % of the population (2011 census), but own 72 % of private farmland (2017 government statistics).

Ramaphosa 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 says.

Far-left opposition firebrand, Julius Malema, who has led calls for the seizure of white-owned land, told Trump to keep out of the debate. “We want to send a strong message to the U.S. to stay out of South Africa. You have caused enough problems in Africa,” he told journalists.

The South African government has repeatedly stated that nobody has a right to invade land or to violate other people’s rights and that it will at all times uphold the law and ensure that the rights of all South Africans are protected.

The U.S. State Department was not immediately available for comment.

Afriforum, which mostly champions white people’s rights in South Africa, welcomed Trump’s announcement.

“Everyone in South Africa should therefore hope that the pressure from the USA will lead to the ANC reconsidering the disastrous route that they want to take SA on,” AfriForum’s CEO, Kallie Kriel, said.

He added that Trump’s comment came just three months after AfriForum sent a delegation to the United States to brief Carlson, and the Cato Institute think tank, on the situation in South Africa.

Violent Crime in South Africa

Reuters said violent crime is a serious problem across South Africa and 47 farmers were killed in 2017-18, according to statistics from AgriSA, an association of agricultural associations. However the same figures show that farm murders are at a 20-year low.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” model under which the 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 the 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 that the government will act in a way that radically destabilises investor security.”

Trump’s tweet came days after it was announced that his wife, Melania, would travel to Africa in October for her first major solo international trip as first lady.

In January, South Africa protested to the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria about reported remarks by Trump that some immigrants from Africa and Haiti came from “shithole” countries.

(Editing by Robert Birsel, James Macharia, Andrew Heavens and Jenni Baxter)

President Donald Trump’s Tweet:

Reaction from South Africa’s former Public Protector:

And Ryan Cummings posted this old, but very funny, video:

Other Tweets