The planned migration of 15,000 South African Boers to Russia is forcing the host country to choose between welcoming these new arrivals for humanitarian reasons or complicating their efforts to flee for geopolitical ones.
RT just published an article quoting a Rossiya 1TV report about a delegation of 30 South African farming families that travelled to the country’s southern Stavropol Region in preparation for the planned migration of 15,000 Boers there in the coming future. This community of white farmers has been increasingly victimized by killings and other crimes since the end of Apartheid in 1994, and with the new government of Cyril Ramaphosa vowing to seize their land without compensation, they understandably feel under threat enough to the point of fleeing their homeland for protection. The intertwined issue of the Boers and their farms involves human and land rights, though legitimate questions pertaining to racial victimhood and inherited property have been largely overlooked after political extremists hijacked this emotive debate.
For example, some far-right personalities portray black South Africans as “ungrateful savages” hell bent on irresponsibly turning their country into 2000s Zimbabwe for the short-term sake of satisfying racial bloodlust, while far-left ones have framed the Boers as “racist pigs” clinging to their Apartheid-era legacy of land ownership partially as a means of ensuring their social superiority over the black masses. The situation is much more complex than these malicious stereotypes would over-simplistically imply because black South Africans are influenced by the concept of social justice in fixing the structural inequalities of Apartheid while the Boers are hard-working laborers whose toils help provide daily sustenance for their country’s majority-black population.
Flight Instead Of Fight
Unfortunately, the heated tensions between both camps have evidently become irreconcilable seeing as how criminals are now violently targeting the Boers and the state has passed a motion allowing it to seize this influential minority group’s land, which is why so many of them feel that the time has finally come for them to flee. Australia was originally a possible destination for them after its Home Affairs Minister said that “special attention” would be given to granting the Boers visas on humanitarian grounds, but the resultant scandal that this provoked in the island nation draws into question whether the government can fulfill its original promise. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the Boers decided to look elsewhere as a backup plan, with Russia now being the most attractive destination for them.
The country recently implemented a new policy that offers up impressive tracts of land in remote regions to its own citizens and immigrants alike so long as they put their new plots to economic use of some sort. Although originally focused on the Russian Far East, President Putin later expressed his interest to expand it to other parts of his continent-sized state, which has since seen it applied to the European region of Vologda. The Boers, however, are eyeing out their prospective hosts’ southern Stavropol Region that the delegation praised for its temperate climate, which thus far isn’t eligible under the dual immigration-land reform policy though it possibly could be one of these days. As such, the Rossiya 1 TV report noted that each family plans to bring up to $100,000 with them to lease land.
Weighing Whether It’s Worth It
Russia could gain a lot from this inflow of investment into such a strategic sector as agriculture, especially since it would be driven by people who have decades’ worth of experience putting their skills to use with proven results. Furthermore, Russia’s soft power would skyrocket in the Western countries where Boer awareness campaigns are concentrated, as would the appeal of its immigration-land reform policy that would have been responsible for delivering these farmers from danger. The country would be fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities and also bringing development to its own people as a result, making this a mutually beneficial approach that couldn’t seemingly be any more perfect.
Nevertheless, Russia can’t control how other countries, especially its BRICS strategic partner South Africa, view its actions, and Moscow’s assistance to the same Boers whom many Africans loathe might undermine its soft power as it quietly returns to the continent given the perception that millions of people have of them as “racist pigs”. In addition, South Africa would almost surely object to Russia de-facto legitimizing the Boers’ narrative of racist victimization, which could complicate their bilateral relationship even further after last year’s unexpected nuclear deal setback and possibly even provoke Pretoria to take the lead in opposing the recent expansion of Moscow’s influence in Africa depending on how offended it becomes.
The Dilemma & The Deal
The dilemma that Russia has to confront is whether it’s worth more for it to accept 15,000 fleeing Boers with their millions of dollars’ worth of skilled investment in the agricultural sector and risk complicating its “Pivot to Africa” because of the optics involved or if it should create “plausibly deniable” “bureaucratic obstacles” to prevent their mass migration in order to safeguard what could potentially be the billions of dollars’ worth of long-time profits that its reinvigorated African policy could eventually lead to. Choosing to help the Boers could boost the soft power appeal of Russia’s immigration and land reform approaches while strategically strengthening its agricultural output, though picking Pretoria over them would preempt the possible infowar weaponization of its Boer-assistance policy that could be wielded to threaten future profits from its “African Pivot”.
Thankfully, the world is moving beyond unipolarity’s “zero-sum” mentality and towards multipolarity’s win-win one, which therefore allows Russia to strike a “compromise solution” for “balancing” between these two divergent interests. The country could still welcome the Boers with open arms for the reasons previously explained, but it wouldn’t be prioritizing their migration on any humanitarian grounds and would therefore be keeping it strictly apolitical. This would allow Moscow to send the message that it respects South Africa’s official stance that the Boers aren’t facing any unique problems and therefore avoid having Russia inadvertently interfere in its domestic affairs by formally suggesting otherwise through the acceptance of any potential asylum claims from the Boers or affording them special treatment. Even so, as long as the Boers follow the law, Russia would continue to provide them refuge.
It’s important for Russia to not go too far in either direction after the Boers inadvertently placed it on the horns of an unexpected dilemma, since appearing too partisan towards their plight could undermine Moscow’s “African Pivot” while ignoring their highly publicized concerns and making it difficult to legally migrate to the country might subvert its own interconnected immigration & land reform policies. The Boers undoubtedly would prefer for an influential country like Russia to officially recognize their plight, just as South Africa would obviously be in favor of Russia not accepting a single one of this category of migrants because it would imply that they’re fleeing, but both parties might accept Russia’s apolitical “compromise” of facilitating Boer migration without officially acknowledging the humanitarian reasons behind their exodus.
By organizing the first large-scale and legal migration into its territory since World War II, Moscow would be testing the efficiency of its relevant bureaucratic apparatuses, especially in the event that the Boers’ desired settlements in Stavropol Region become part of the free land program. Russia would also have to ensure that this sudden influx of foreign farmers doesn’t unwittingly offset the interests of its own in that corner of the country. If Moscow is capable of managing these challenges on the home front, then there’s no reason why a “balanced” solution such as the one suggested in this analysis couldn’t be advanced in order to satisfy the differing sensitivities of the Boers and South Africa without engendering any strategic blowback for Russia’s own overall interests.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.