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BOUND BY A CAUSE

Trump and the man trying to topple Australia’s government share an affinity for helping South Africa’s white farmers

By Isabella Steger

Amid all the legal troubles engulfing him, president Donald Trump found time today (Aug. 23) to express his concern for white farmers in South Africa, adding that he had asked secretary of state Mike Pompeo to look into their plight:

Trump’s tweet came just after Fox News broadcast a segment on land seizures from white farmers in South Africa. The conservative network is known to have an outsize influence on Trump.

Before Trump took an interest in the matter, however, conservative publications elsewhere in the world, including the UK’s Daily Mail, had already seized on the issue, delivering alarmist warnings of a “white genocide” or violence on the scale that occurred in Zimbabwe under autocrat Robert Mugabe. But nowhere was the discussion of how to help South Africa’s white farmers taken on with a greater sense of urgency than in Australia.

Peter Dutton—who is mounting a challenge to topple leader Malcolm Turnbull, and who until this week was the home affairs minister—suggested in March that South African white farmers deserved “special attention” from a “civilized country” like Australia. The cause was also supported by Australian newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which also controls Fox News.

Dutton is a former policeman who has advocated a tough line on immigration and asylum seekers, helping enforce Australia’s notoriously hardline offshore detention policy on Pacific islands like Nauru. Earlier this year, he drew criticism for his comments that people in the state of Victoria were scared to go out because of crimes committed by African gangs.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress moved in July to amend the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation, a proposal first adopted by the party in December. Most land still remains in the hands of white farmers in South Africa, a quarter century after the end of apartheid. Previously, the government purchased land to redistribute it to blacks.

A spokeswoman for South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said that Trump’s tweet was “misinformed,” without elaborating, and said the country would take up the matter with the US through “diplomatic channels.”

The similarities between Trump and Dutton were not lost on Chinese nationalistic state tabloid Global Times, which couldn’t resist a chance to make a dig at the two men—particularly on a day when tensions between Beijing and Washington, as well as with Canberra are running high, after new tariffs by the US on Chinese goods kicked in and Australia barred telecoms giant Huawei from building out its 5G network. The paper’s Chinese language version (link in Chinese), in a column titled “The foreign government so hated by Chinese people is itself imploding,” compared Dutton to a “low-level version of Trump”—who may shortly find himself becoming the next leader of Australia.

This story was updated with comment from South Africa’s government.