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Trump orders 'study' of South African land seizures, alleged murders of white farmers

Trump plans to "closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures."

August 23, 2018, 6:44 PM

President Donald Trump asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "closely study" South Africa land seizures, citing what he referred to as the "large scale" killings of farmers there despite little evidence that is happening.

Trump made the announcement via Twitter late Wednesday in the wake of a controversial plan by the South African government that would allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. The tweet appeared to make reference to a Fox News report hours earlier that linked the proposed measure to racism and alleged murders of white farmers.

"I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. 'South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.' @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews,'" Trump tweeted.

The president did not immediately provide evidence to back up his claim that farmers were being killed on a "large scale."

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert Thursday declined to say whether this was an issue, even praising how South Africa has handled the current debate on the issue as "peaceful and transparent."

But Secretary Pompeo will look into the matter, she added.

"An expropriation of land without compensation would risk sending South Africa down the wrong path," she said. "We encourage a peaceful and transparent public debate about this important issue; that seems to be happening right now."

The South African government, however, responded to the allegations with anger and alarm, mentioning Trump in a pair of tweets sent from its official Twitter account. It said it "totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past. #landexpropriation @realDonaldTrump @PresidencyZA."

"South Africa will speed up the pace of land reform in a careful and inclusive manner that does not divide our nation," it added in a subsequent tweet, tagging Trump.

The top U.S. diplomat in South Africa was summoned for a meeting with government officials Thursday, Nauert confirmed.

Trump posted the tweet around 10:30 p.m. EST, shortly after Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" aired a report that called the seizures "far more racist than anything Donald Trump has ever done."

"South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has just begun the process of seizing land from his own citizens, without compensation, purely due to their skin color," Carlson said. "That's far more racist than anything Donald Trump has ever done, of course, but elites in America barely even care."

The proposal has drawn the ire of critics, who say it would disenfranchise white citizens. But there is little evidence for the "large scale killing" of white farmers that Trump referenced, with a drop in the number of murders on farms since 2001-2002, according to the Associated Press.

"There is absolutely no evidence that the violence is aimed at white farmers. There is no objective evidence of targeted killings,” Gareth Newham, head of the crime and justice program of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, told the AP.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa announced earlier that the ruling political party, the African National Congress, had agreed to a proposal to alter the country's constitution and allow for land expropriation, or seizure by the government, without compensation.

The measure has not been signed into law.

South African Deputy President David Mabuza arrives at the Zwartkloof Game Resenge ahead of his address at the Landbou Weekblad and AgriSA land summit.
South African Deputy President David Mabuza arrives at the Zwartkloof Game Resenge ahead of his address at the Landbou Weekblad and AgriSA land summit.
South African Government, via Twitter

But Ramaphosa said the land reform measure is "key to stability" because decades after the end of apartheid, whites still control a vast majority of the country's land while blacks make up nearly 80 percent of the country's population.

He said if the proposal is signed into law, it would help heal the "festering wound" of land dispossession and inequality.

"The urban spatial patterns that we inherited from apartheid, and which persist to this day, contribute to the reproduction of poverty and inequality -- and must be fundamentally changed," Ramaphosa said this week in a statement. "It is unacceptable that the working class and poor, who are overwhelmingly black, are located far from work opportunities and amenities."

South Africa's ANC government has been expropriating and redistributing land for years, but it has not passed any legislation to allow for expropriation without compensation as of yet. The proposal is currently being debated in parliament and through local referendums.

South African Deputy President David Mabuza aimed to dispel "falsehoods" associated with the proposal while speaking at a land summit on Tuesday.

"We would like to discourage those who are using this sensitive and emotive issue of land to divide us as South Africans by distorting our land reform measures to the international community, and spreading falsehoods that our 'white farmers' are facing the onslaught from their own government. This is far from the truth," Mabuza said in prepared remarks. "Land has always been a sensitive matter, and it is at the heart of ordinary people's daily struggles for economic participation and social empowerment."

"As the leadership of the ANC and government," Mabuza added, "we are clear that the implementation of land reform measures must not result in social fractures and racial polarization."

ABC News' Candace Smith and Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.

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