Lots of 'misinformation' in US about 'complex land issue' in SA - US deputy secretary of state
The complexity of the South African land reform process, including the continuing national dialogue about expropriation, has not travelled well across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States and there is some "misinformation" about what it actually entails.
This is according to John Sullivan, the US deputy secretary of state, who visited the country last week to strengthen bilateral relations with South Africa.
He met representatives from a range of local and US businesses, students that are part of American scholarship programmes, and senior officials from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation during his three-day official visit.
More than 600 US businesses are registered in South Africa and the country is the third largest foreign direct investor in the local economy.
Sullivan told journalists at a round-table discussion on Friday that the issue of land reform and expropriation was discussed both with officials from the South African government and representatives of agriculture. He said an open and transparent land reform process will help retain confidence in the economy, while a closed and non-transparent process will achieve the opposite.
He said that the issues around land reform are not understood well in the US and that misinformation may be one of the reasons why.
"Land reform has gotten substantial publicity in the United States…there was a front-page story on the Sunday New York Times last week. But I think there is some misinformation in the US, the issue is complex and I don’t think it translated well across the ocean and has been covered with the depth and perspective that is necessary.
"My approach here, given my goal of promoting deeper and stronger commercial bonds in order to encourage foreign direct investment by US companies in South Africa, is to plead with the government that processes that are underway remain transparent and that it promotes confidence in the South African economy," Sullivan said.
Afrikaner rights group AfriForum and the Institute for Race Relations have recently travelled to the US to campaign against expropriation.
Both organisations were criticised in some quarters about their message to the media and lobby groups in the US, especially after AfriForum’s Ernst Roets was interviewed on the Fox News Channel in which the host, Tucker Carlson, made some inaccurate remarks.
Sullivan said his delegation met with "farmers" but neither he nor Rob Mearkle, spokesperson for the US embassy in Pretoria, were willing to elaborate about the nature of those discussions.
News24, however, understands that the meeting included AgriSA’s Omri van Zyl and Grain SA’s Jaco Minnaar, as well as the ANC’s Ronald Lamola and Enoch Godongwana.
AgriSA’s message to Sullivan was that expropriation without compensation, as is mooted by some, will have a disastrous effect on the economy and that there are other ways to ensure inclusive growth in the agricultural sector. The ANC’s representatives were seemingly open about the party and government’s failures and explained the need for fair and sustainable redress.
All parties were acutely aware of the negative impact a poorly executed land reform programme could have on South Africa’s future participation in the US’s Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Both AgriSA and the ANC were satisfied with the outcome of the engagement.
AgriSA was the only representative of organised and commercial agriculture invited to meet with Sullivan and it was the second time that the organisation has met senior US officials.
"I was in listening mode…speaking to the experts who are working on the ground trying to unravel this," Sullivan said.
He added that there are a number of factors that contribute to the complexity of the land reform issue and that he "came to learn" about the historic, economic and social justice imperatives for reform.
"My message is that it must be done in a transparent way so that the agricultural sector, which is substantial in size, isn’t adversely affected by a non-transparent process that reduces investor confidence in the country. My plea was for transparency. Other than that, I’m in listening mode as the president directed the secretary (of state, Mike Pompeo) to enquire about the matter."
The US’s deputy secretary of state, the highest ranked state department official to visit South Africa since 2012, was non-committal when asked about President Donald Trump’s tweet in August last year in which he said that the government is "seizing land from white farmers" and that there are "large scale killings" of farmers here.
"What I’d say is that the crime rate, generally, in South Africa is very high, tragically high, and it's reflected in urban and rural areas and on farms. Have there been farmers killed? Yes. Have white farmers been killed? Yes. Have farm workers been killed? Yes. Have black farm workers killed? Yes.
"It’s come up in my discussions over the last three days and I know the South African government is working hard to address it."
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