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President Donald Trump says he has instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "closely study the South Africa land and farm seizure and large scale killing of farmers," hyping a fringe talking point about Pretoria "seizing land from white farmers."
His tweet late Wednesday ET about South African land reform prompted a sharp response from the government.
He included the handle of Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson in his tweet. Carlson had discussed the issue on his show Wednesday, introducing the segment by saying, "South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has just begun the process of seizing land from his own citizens, without compensation, because they're the wrong skin color. That is literally the definition of racism. "
Carlson then went on to criticize "elites" that criticize Trump for racism while "paying no attention" to the "racist government of South Africa." The segment seems to have prompted Trump to instruct Pompeo to look into the matter.
Trump's comment on South Africa is the first time he has used the word "Africa" on the social media platform since becoming president.
The South African government was quick to respond Thursday. "South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past," the government said.
In a second tweet also directed at Trump, Pretoria said it would "speed up the pace of land reform in a careful and inclusive manner that does not divide our nation."
Later Thursday, South Africa Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said it was regrettable that Trump's tweet was "based on false information," Reuters reported. Sisulu said she had instructed officials in her department to meet with the U.S. embassy in Pretoria to seek clarification on the matter, the news agency added.
Land reforms in South Africa are high on the government's agenda and have stirred controversy.
At the start of August, Ramaphosa announced plans by the ruling African National Congress to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation.
The government sees these changes as a way to boost the country's agricultural sector and economy. Opponents say it is a threat to food security and the economy.
The bulk of South Africa's land is owned by its minority white population, a vestige of its colonial past, thus they are likely to be most affected by the changes.
Despite the end of apartheid, South Africa's institutionalized segregation of races, in the early 1990s and the first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, being elected in 1994, racial and economic divisions remain entrenched in the country a quarter of a century later.
Announcing the land reforms, Ramaphosa said the changes would "promote redress, advance economic development, increase agricultural production and food security." The move alarmed investors and the rand fell to a one-week low against the dollar.
On Monday night, Ramaphosa went further, saying in a speech on land reforms that these were the only way to let a "festering wound" heal and that "black people want their land back," national newspaper Business Day reported.
The notion that white farmers are persecuted in South Africa largely stems from a fringe group called AfriForum. Some far-right commentators and pundits have picked up on the idea, suggesting that there could be a "genocide" of white people in the country.
Trump's wife, Melania, is planning to visit several African countries in October, without her husband, who has referred to immigrants from some African countries in disparaging language.