South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) has withdrawn a controversial piece of legislation that would have seen white owned farmlands nationalised and re-distributed to black farmers. Land re-distribution had been a long term goal of the ANC ever since forming the country’s first post-Apartheid government in 1994. The far-left party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have been staunch proponents of such measures while the party’s leader Julius Malema has become a figure of hate for Donald Trump’s domestic base as well as Trump sympathisers throughout Canada, Australia and Europe. As expected, the white population of South Africa tended to vehemently oppose such measures with multiple pro-Trump commentators in the United States calling the plans a gateway to genocide of South Africa’s Afrikaner (Boer) population.
While debates on the broader issues surrounding the specific bill are set to continue with the ruling party pledging to deliver on its propose to execute land expropriation, the geopolitical conditions surrounding the issue means that the future of similar legislation is now less than certain.
WITHDRAWAL OF EXPROPRIATION BILL FOR FURTHER RECONSIDERATION pic.twitter.com/liFnvJlioG
— ANC Parliament (@ANCParliament) August 28, 2018
Six days ago, Trump himself weighed into the matter by stating he had instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate the matter as well as the issue of violence against 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
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
While opposition to the ANC’s land expropriation bill appears to be a vote winner among Trump’s domestic base, the additional matter of sanctinos and/or tariffs against South Africa may have been a real possibility had South Africa gone through with the legislation. I previously described a would-be scenario whereby the US would implement sanctions/tariffs against South Africa in the following way:
“Quite unlike the case of Andrew Brunson, the US national accused of terrorism related offences in Turkey – a story that has failed to capture the imagination of Trump’s domestic base, the South African farmland issue has galvanised many of Trump’s most outspoken supporters. The popular American radio host Michael Savage who has met with Trump on several occasions sine he took office dedicated an entire programme to the issue while referring to a “genocide” of white farmers.
Therefore, all of the ducks are in line regarding a possible US instigated trade war on South Africa. These include:
–Running a trade surplus with the US.
–Growing ever closer to China both through joint BRICS membership and through new Chinese initiatives aimed at Africa as a whole in the context of the expanding the One Belt–One Rod initiative.
–Being an exporter of agricultural products to the US at a time when Trump is providing stimulus to the domestic agricultural industry after losing many of its valuable Chinese customers due to the trade war with Beijing.
–Conducting a domestic policy that is incredibly unpopular with Trump’s core supporters.
And then there is an added element of Russia. Thus far, the nation that has been most responsive to Afrikaner requests for what amounts to asylum is Russia. This is the case because in Russia Afrikaners can receive what amounts to asylum in Russia without it being called asylum. In President Vladimir Putin’s previous Presidential term, Moscow introduced policies where vast plots of empty farmland throughout Russia would be given away for free to whom ever would work the land and turn it into a profitable working farm. Crucially, this “land for productivity” programme was open to both Russians and foreigners.
This has allowed Russia to extend a hand to white South Africans without offending its close historical partner, the ANC government in Pretoria which remains infuriated at the suggestion there is anything inhumane about its land reform programme.
For a highly competitive man like Donald Trump, it would appear that Russia’s programme is seen as direct competition as now he appears to be on the verge of acting as the rescuer of white South Africans desperate to start a new life abroad. One cannot underestimate the fact that he would not want to be “outdone” by Russia, given that the very idea of Russia has come to haunt his Presidency. While Russia’s elegant solution of welcoming those who will work for free land, some of whom “just happen” to be Afrikaners has allowed Moscow and Pretoria to retain good relations, South Africa’s President has already voiced a complaint to the US in respect of Trump’s Tweet”.
It would appear that Trump’s Tweet was enough to convince Pretoria to withdraw the bill in order to avoid possibly crippling sanctions at a time when the decline in the value of the Turkish Lira has hit the Rand particularly hard. Direct pressure from the US on South Africa’s economy may have proved to turn the final screw in respect of forcing South African Presdient Cyril Ramaphosa to effectively suspend the bill.
While ANC representatives have stated that they still intend to move forward with land reform after further discussions and studies, the danger facing Ramaphosa is that the strong left-wing of his own traditionally radical party as well as pressure from the Economic Freedom Fighters could prove to be a new political challenge as these political forces wanted land re-distribution executed at the soonest possible date.
However, by clearly heeding an unambiguous however coded admonition from the US President, it is clear that the government decided that risking a domestic left-wing backlash was a risk worth taking as such a course at least temporarily avoids economic action taken against South Africa by a pro-sanctions/pro-tariff White House.
Ironically, earlier in the day the UK Prime Minister who is in Cape Town verbally endorsed the land expropriation proposals. In this sense, Trump has clearly been able to not only exert clear influence over South Africa but also embarrass the UK premier with whom Trump has disagreed with over multiple issues in the recent past. Likewise, by at least temporarily jettisoning the issue, the migration of white South Africans to Russia will likely fall from the headlines in the United States, thus proving useful for a Republican midterm campaign that seeks to stem the tide of the domestic “Russiagate” issue.