White supremacist propaganda or white farmers’ plight?
South Africa and Namibia are currently dealing with the thorny issue of land expropriation. The main problem is the expropriation of the disproportionate amount of land possessed by the white minorities of these countries. These white minorities are still considered by the native black majorities as the descendants of “invaders,” “colonialists,” or “settlers” who took the land from the natives at gunpoint.
More than two decades after white-minority rule ended in South Africa, most of its profitable farms and estates are still owned by the white minority. Ninety-five percent of the country’s wealth is reportedly in the hands of 10 percent of the population. For example, The Guardian reported on June 26, 2018 that according to the Land Audit Report of South Africa, 72 percent of agricultural land is owned by white farmers, down from 85 percent when the Apartheid ended. Much of this remains in the hands of the minority white Afrikaner community who are the descendants of colonial-era settlers.
The ruling African National Congress of South Africa had previously promised to quicken the pace of wealth distribution, including enacting a constitutional amendment to allow the government to expropriate land without compensation under certain circumstances. Press reports suggest the amendment procedure is still in progress. In this respect, some South African academicians assert that such land seizures could violate the founding provision of the constitution guaranteeing human dignity, rights and freedoms, outlawing racism and ensuring the supremacy of the rule of law. Recent reports also indicate the continuation of a dispute on whether the proposed legislation, which includes the wording “just and equitable” compensation will result in payments for expropriated lands less than their actual market value.
Similar discussions are also valid for Namibia, which is planning to convene the second National Land Conference in October 2018 to address this issue.
United States President Donald Trump, after reportedly having referred to African countries as “s**t holes” at the beginning of this year, enigmatically showed an interest in African affairs recently and shared a Twitter post about South Africa on Aug. 23. He stated in his post that he “asked Secretary of State Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” Trump’s tweet was reportedly inspired by an “exclusive investigation” carried out by the right-wing U.S. TV channel Fox News about alleged farm seizures in South Africa.
The Fox News program sharing the “investigation” reported that “the president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa has begun seizing land from his own citizens without compensation because they are the wrong skin color. Fox News defined the South African move as “racism” and labelled the alleged developments as a “human rights tragedy.” Additionally, a senior policy analyst present at the program stated that if South Africa’s constitution is amended to allow for land expropriation without compensation, South Africa should be suspended from the African Growth and Opportunity Act of the U.S. that aims to assist the economies of sub-Saharan Africa.
Additionally, the World Bank released a systematic country diagnostic report this April titled “An Incomplete Transition: Overcoming the Legacy of Exclusion in South Africa,” in which it is stated that the “race-based exclusion is a defining feature of South Africa’s history.” It also underlined that “South Africa’s historical, highly skewed distribution of land and productive assets is a source of inequality and social fragility, and it fuels the contestation of resources.”
These developments remind us that the world still suffers from the deep wounds inflicted by past brutal colonialism. How countries such as South Africa and Namibia should address this past is a complicated issue that requires careful deliberation in order to avoid damaging social cohesion and economic development. Bombastic and opportunistic statements by politicians and media outlets only serve to further complicate such issues.
* Teoman Ertuğrul TULUN is an analyst at the Center for Eurasian Studies (AVİM)