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African Press Review 24 August 2018

The divisive issue of land expropriation makes headlines in South Africa as US President Donald Trump tweets his displeasure over "land seizures" and "the large-scale killing of farmers."

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US President Donald Trump hogs the headlines in today's South African newspapers.

BusinessDay's editorial is headlined: " What Donald Trump’s crazy tweet means for South Africa."

In case you missed it, Trump tweeted "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." And, "South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.”

"This should not be dismissed as an example of Trump’s skating on thin facts," the paper tells us. "To describe Cyril Ramaphosa as a racist who is stealing land because he hates whites is absolutely untrue."

Until yesterday morning, the paper says, watching Donald Trump was a spectator sport for South Africans, who delighted in mocking his crazy comments.

But yesterday's tweet is no laughing matter, the paper cautions. Trump has shown a willingness to rapidly escalate his displeasure with a country. The paper cites the example of Turkey - where the consequences of Trump's displeasure have been catastrophic. "The US is in a position to inflict a lot of pain on South Africa," it declares.

White land ownership

The overwhelmingly white ownership of farmland in South Africa is one of the most sensitive issues in the country's post-apartheid history.

BusinessDay reminds readers that "There is indeed a vigorous debate over land expropriation in SA and, should it be implemented in a sweeping, destructive manner, there is no doubt that it could damage this country, as this newspaper has frequently pointed out."

The paper calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa to "get onto the front foot and explain the more nuanced case for expropriation to the world in clear terms if he is to roll back the tide of disinformation. A failure to do so will allow this sensitive debate to be defined by the late-night tweets of a man under siege." That's to say Donald Trump.

Ramaphosa does seem to be trying to sugar the pill. In an article published on yesterday's Financial Times website he writes that "Among the greatest obstacles to growth is the severe inequality between black and white South Africans."

Land ownership is one of the areas where this disparity is most devastating, he argues, citing the World Bank's listing it as the second-biggest obstacle to fighting poverty, after skill shortages.

He outlines instances where expropriation without compensation might be justified: "unused land, derelict buildings, purely speculative land holdings, or circumstances where occupiers have strong historical rights and title holders do not occupy or use their land, such as labour tenancy, informal settlements and abandoned inner-city buildings".

What do the parties think?

The Sowetan poses the question "Where do political parties stand on the land question - and why?"

The paper reports that more than a few parties are opposed to expropriation without compensation. They include the Democratic Alliance, the largest opposition party.

The paper quotes Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party which wants land to be expropriated provided land owners are paid. "If I were a businessman from England, Europe or America, I would not invest my money in a country that does not compensate landowners. Only an insane person would invest here,” said Buthelezi.

However, the ruling African National Congress supports land expropriation without compensation as do others on the left. They include the Economic Freedom Fighters whose leader Julius Malema described Trump as "a pathological liar" and told him to keep his nose out of South African affairs.

How nuanced is that?

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