South Africa earlier demanded that Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton retract comments that suggested white farmers were being persecuted and deserved protection with special visas from a “civilised country”.
Pretoria hauled in Canberra’s high commissioner for a diplomatic ticking off over Mr Dutton’s remarks, which also included a description of white farmers facing “horrific circumstances”, a characterisation South Africa has rejected.
“The South African government is offended by the statements which have been attributed to the Australian Home Affairs Minister and a full retraction is expected,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Dutton, who has drawn criticism in the past for cracking down on asylum-seekers from Asia and the Middle East, was called “an out-and-out racist” by Greens leader Richard di Natale.
He suggested the stance on South African farmers signalled a return to the “White Australia” policy, referring to laws in place for seven decades from 1901 that prevented non-white immigrants settling Down Under.
“There’s no debate as far as I’m concerned, the bloke is an out-and-out racist,” he told reporters.
“According to Peter Dutton, if you’re a white South African farmer you are going to make a great contribution, you’re not going to bludge on welfare. But if you’re not white, you won’t do any of those things.”
Speaking to parliament this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa was not heading down the road towards the type of violent and chaotic seizure of white-owned farms that triggered economic collapse in Zimbabwe nearly 20 years ago.
Although violent crime is a serious issue across South Africa, killings on farms, the vast majority of which are white-owned, has become a particularly racially charged issue.
Pretoria is outraged over Peter Dutton’s suggestion that white farmers in South Africa need help from a “civilised country” like Australia.
Mr Dutton said he believed the farmers deserve “special attention” because they faced violence and land seizures.
“If you look at the footage and read the stories, you hear the accounts, it’s a horrific circumstance they face,” Mr Dutton told the Daily Telegraph yesterday.
“We have the potential to help some of these people that are being persecuted.”
Mr Dutton said he had directed the Home Affairs department to explore whether the farmers can be accepted into Australia through refugee, humanitarian or other visas, including the in-country persecution visa category.
“I do think on the information that I’ve seen, people do need help, and they need help from a civilised country like ours,” Mr Dutton said.
The minister said it was clear the farmers in question wanted to work hard and contribute to countries like Australia.
“We want people who want to come here, abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard, not lead a life on welfare,” he said.
“And I think these people deserve special attention and we’re certainly applying that special attention now.”
However, the comments were rejected by South Africa’s foreign ministry which said its people were not under any such danger.
“That threat does not exist,” the South African foreign ministry in Pretoria said.
“There is no reason for any government in the world to suspect that a section of South Africans is under danger from their own democratically elected government.”
The foreign ministry added: “We regret that the Australian government chose not to use the available diplomatic channels available for them to raise concerns or to seek clarification.”
AfriForum, a rights group representing primarily the white Afrikaner minority, praised Mr Dutton’s comments, however said it was not in favour of mass emigration.
Chief executive Kallie Kriel also said the group was not going anywhere.
“Our future is in Africa, not elsewhere,” he said.
In a statement on its website, AfriForum said it was clear Mr Dutton took the high occurrence of farm attacks in such a serious light.
According to AfriForum there were more than 400 attacks on white farmers last year alone.
Alana Bailey, Deputy CEO of AfriForum responsible for international liaison said the South African government was simply “shrugging off these fears”.
“Further he also seemingly admits that the concern of white South Africans is just as valid as that of any other citizen, while the South African authorities are only too glad to hold the community as scapegoats for problems in the country and treat them as second class citizens,” Ms Bailey said.
She said Mr Dutton’s comments should serve as food for thought for the South African government.
“It must serve as a warning that South Africa runs the risk to lose even more productive, loyal citizens should their concerns about issues such as property rights not be listened to in earnest and actions not be launched to address problems such as crime in the country,” Ms Bailey said.
CUT ‘THE THROAT OF WHITENESS’
Mr Dutton’s comments come amid a South African parliamentary decision which earlier this month voted to allow the seizure of land from white farmers without compensation.
The proposal, led by firebrand politician Julias Malema, is certain to flare the already volatile situation taking place across the nation.
Malema was expelled from the ruling African National Congress in 2013.
He now leads the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party which joined the ruling African National Congress to pass the motion to seize land from white farmers.
“Now is the time for justice,” Mr Malema was quoted by News24 as telling Parliament.
“We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land.”
In recent days he’s also been accused of inciting hate speech and inflaming attacks on South Africa’s white minority.
At a rally earlier this month he called for Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip to be removed just because he “is a white man”.
He also accused the mayor — a member of the Democratic Alliance — of leading a racist party that promotes the interests of whites.
“All white people who are voting DA, who are angry with what we are going to do in (Port Elizabeth) … all of you can go to hell, we don’t care about you,” he told the rally in Johannesburg.
“We don’t care about white feelings. We don’t hate white people, we just love black people.”
A 2017 government audit found white people owned 72 per cent of farmland in South Africa, Bloomberg reported.
Newly sworn in South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has made land expropriation a key pillar of his policy platform after taking over from ousted PM Jacob Zuma earlier last month.