The Atlantic

The Dangerous Myths of South African Land Seizures

Reactionaries on either side of the Atlantic are empowering one another.
Source: Siphewe Sibeko / Reuters

Last week, President Donald Trump watched Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News and got mad. That’s not exactly news, but what happened next was news. The president tweeted a message of support for South Africa’s hard-pressed 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.”

Trump’s tweet had the usual effect: It has swung liberal-minded Americans to exactly the equal and opposite point of view from the president’s. Trump thinks it’s bad for South Africa to seize land from white farmers without compensation? Then it must actually be good!

But the tweet also had a second effect, this one much less usual: It seems to have actually changed real-world policy for the better. On Tuesday, South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) party withdrew “for further consideration” a bill that would have authorized uncompensated land confiscations.

The issue is not yet dead: The bill—not yet enacted into law—was withdrawn for reasons of procedure, not principle. The new South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, maintains he will soon introduce new land laws of his own. Yet there’s no mistaking Ramaphosa’s extreme discomfort with uncompensated land in the that handled the issue with sugar tongs:

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