In a communication leaked from the American embassy to South Africa, President Donald Trump was tacitly rebuked by U.S. diplomats after the president tweeted his concern over South Africa’s plan to compel property owners to sell their land at below market rates. Obtained by Foreign Policy magazine, the State Department cable is titled “Despite Crime Epidemic, Farm Murders Down,” and offers information concerning murders at farms owned by white South Africans. “Some journalists and lobby groups have simplified complex land disputes to serve their own ends,” the cable says. However, it does not mention Trump specifically. It was transmitted on Wednesday. Foreign Policy did not reveal how the cable was obtained. If the cable was classified "confidential," "secret," or "top secret," its release may be a violation of State Department policy and federal law.
The cable indicates that American diplomats obtained information from a range of experts to find out the level of violence directed against white farmers. According to Foreign Policy, the embassy officials found “no evidence that murders on farms specifically target white people or are politically motivated.” It goes on to say, “Farmers suggested that they are more vulnerable to violence because of the remoteness of the farms and inadequate responses of law enforcement agencies, but they also noted that farm violence has never resulted in any kind of land seizure.” According to the cable, “Some journalists and lobby groups have simplified complex land disputes to serve their own ends.”
Last week, Trump tweeted that he had called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to closely study the South African land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” The South African government rejected Trump’s gesture and released a statement that his tweet was based on “false information.” “South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.”
According to Foreign Policy, the State Department refused to comment on “allegedly leaked documents,” but averred that crime rates in the rural areas of South Africa are very high. The annual human rights report by the State Department has noted concern “about killings and other violent crimes against white farmers...and their families” but has not seen evidence of large-scale killings. However, the Express newspaper of the UK reports that there has been a rise in violent attacks against farmers in South Africa and between 2016-7, there were 74 farm murders and 638 attacks, mainly against the white farmers.
British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged on Tuesday her support for the land reform in South Africa. Speaking during a junket to the African nation, she emphasized that land expropriation should be done in a “legal and fair way.” She said, ”The UK has for some time now supported land reform. Land reform that is legal, that is transparent, that is generated through a democratic process.”
This week, a bill that had been considered in South Africa's parliament since 2016 to amend the country's constitution so as to allow expropriations has been mostly scrapped. South African Deputy President David Mabuza claimed this week that while there will be no "land grab," white land owners will have to "share" their property. The ruling African National Congress party is expected to put forward new proposals to facilitate land seizures. The South African government had already begun to seize land from whites, and focused on two ranchers in the northern province of Limpopo. This came after talks between the government and the ranchers could not be resolved because of the difference between the ranchers' asking price and the government's counter-offer. Leftists in South Africa are vowing to seize land violently.
Currently, the U.S. mission to South Africa has no resident ambassador. Chargé d’Affaires Jessye Lapenn currently fills the role in the absence of an ambassador. A career diplomat, she served as the Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights at the Department of State during the Obama administration, and has held posts in France, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, and Rwanda.