South Africa’s government slammed President Donald Trump after he tweeted that his administration will study the country’s “land and farm seizures” and “the large scale killing of farmers.”
Trump’s tweet referred to a conspiracy theory that has been a talking point for white nationalists and neo-Nazis who have said problems with post-apartheid land reform amount to “white genocide.” The president tweeted about the subject Wednesday night after Fox News host Tucker Carlson discussed it on air.
South Africa responded to Trump by saying it “totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.”
Lindiwe Sisulu, South Africa’s minister of international relations, said Trump’s tweet “is based on false information” and that the country will clarify the issue with the U.S. through diplomatic channels.
Under South Africa’s apartheid policy that institutionalized racial segregation, black citizens were prohibited from living on or owning land that was exclusively designated for white South Africans. When the country ended apartheid in 1994, whites owned almost all of the private land in South Africa even though they made up only about 10 percent of the population.
Despite some land redistribution reforms, a 2017 government audit found that white people, who make up 8.9 percent of the population, own 72 percent of private farmland. The ruling African National Congress has promised to ramp up redistribution efforts, including amending the constitution to allow the government to seize land without paying the owner.
The proposal has alarmed white farmers, and white lobbying group AfriForum has spread an untrue story of white farmer genocide in the country. There have been violent attacks against white farmers in the past, but data shows violence has been decreasing.
Patrick Gaspard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa, accused Trump of using the controversial tweet to distract attention from his recent legal woes.