Australia considers visas for white South African farmers

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he was considering fast track visas for SA white farmers. Courtesy: BBC

South Africa has dismissed allegations its white farmers are “persecuted” after an Australian minister said they needed help from a “civilised” country. 

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he was exploring giving South Africa’s white farmers access to fast-track visas on humanitarian grounds.

The suggestion was made amid calls to transfer land ownership from white to black farmers in South Africa, and fears over the number of farm killings.

But South Africa says it is ridiculous.

Government spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya told the BBC there was no reason for any country in the world to suspect a section of the South African population was in danger from its democratically elected leaders.

“There’s no need for anyone to be scared or to fear anything,” he said. “The land redistribution programme will be done according to the law. We want to say to our friends across the world that there’s no need to panic.”

He concluded: “We remain a united nation here in South Africa – both black and white.” 

Mr Dutton had earlier told reporters in Australia South Africa’s white farmers needed help “from a civilised country like ours”.

“If you look at the footage and read the stories, you hear the accounts, it’s a horrific circumstance they face,” he said.

Mr Dutton added: “We want people who want to come here, abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard, not lead a life on welfare. And I think these people deserve special attention and we’re certainly applying that special attention now.”

In response, South Africa’s foreign ministry said it regretted “the Australian government chose not to use the available diplomatic channels available for them to raise concerns or to seek clarification”. 

Mr Dutton’s comments come nearly six months after Australia agreed to pay $70m (£39.5m) in compensation and damages to around 2,000 asylum seekers, who had alleged physical and psychological abuse at its detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

Australia did not admit liability in the case but rights groups have repeatedly criticised the country for its human rights violations on offshore detention centres. 

Analysis: ‘We will not allow land grabs’

by Milton Nkosi, BBC News, Johannesburg

The Australian home affairs minister’s comments will send shockwaves of anger out amongst many South Africans.

The idea that white South Africans are under siege from their black counterparts in a democratic state is preposterous – that’s the reaction from many here.

This offer by the Australian politician has already been severely criticised by South Africa’s international affairs department.

A case of a white family seeking asylum, on the basis that they were persecuted for being white in a majority black country, was rejected in 2017 by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

What’s more, President Cyril Ramaphosa told parliament on Wednesday afternoon there would be no land grabs.

In his first question-and-answer session since taking over from Jacob Zuma, he said: “We will not allow land grabs. We will not allow land invasion – because it is illegal. It begins to violate rights of other South African citizens.”

The issue of land ownership in South Africa has been an increasingly fraught topic: almost 75% of its farmland is still in white hands more than two decades after South Africa’s ruling ANC first took power from the white minority government.

White South Africans make up less than 10% of the overall population.

The land expropriation without compensation motion, which was brought forward by the radical left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, seeks to change the constitution to allow for it.

The motion was backed by a majority of MPs in February but it is not clear when or if a vote will take place on the issue. A two-thirds majority is needed to change the country’s constitution.

Calls to transfer land from white to black owners have intensified since South African President Cyril Ramaphosa took office.

Australian media have been reporting the result was an increase in violence against white farmers. Activists in South Africa have long said white farmers are disproportionately killed.

However, the BBC found in November that there was no statistical proof that white farmers were more likely to be murdered than black farmers.