Australia’s offer to fast track visas for “persecuted” white farmers is slammed by South Africa

A South African farmer inspects his crop.
A South African farmer inspects his crop.
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Brisbane, Australia

A potential offer by Australia to give white South African farmers “humanitarian” visas has sparked backlash from the South African government.

Australia’s home affairs, immigration and border protection minister Peter Dutton said he had asked his department to “look at ways in which we can provide some assistance”, following claims in the country’s Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers that “white South African farmers are murdered every week.” Fact-checking website Africa Check was quick to point out the figures were wrong. 

“So we could provide visas for people, potentially in the humanitarian program, because if people are being persecuted—regardless of whether it’s because of religion or the color of their skin or whatever—we need to provide assistance where we can,” Dutton said in an interview with Radio 2GB-4BC on Thursday, posted on the minister’s website.

Dutton added that “people make the point on occasion that we’re (Australia) too generous, but I think in this circumstance we do have to look at the persecution that’s taking place.” 

In a separate interview on the Miranda Devine online radio program, also part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia, Dutton said “hopefully we’ll make an announcement in due course”.

But the government of South Africa, where last month legislators overwhelmingly approved amending the constitution to permit land expropriation without compensation, quickly labelled the remarks “sad” and “regrettable”.

“There is no need to fear . We want to say to the world that we are engaged in a process of land redistribution which is very important to address the imbalances of the past,” a spokesperson for international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu told Guardian Australia.  “But it is going to be done legally, and with due consideration of the economic impact and impact on individuals.”

Dutton’s comments followed reports in the Sunday and Daily Telegraph newspapers in the past week, with one headlined “We’re dying to stay on our farms.”  Berdus Henrico, 39, seriously injured during a raid in Limpopo a few weeks ago, said in Sunday Telegraph story. “This is normal in South Africa to be attacked on a farm.”

In a Daily Telegraph column on Tuesday, Australian journalist Caroline Marcus said “reverse racism” existed in South Africa. “This situation has become so bleak, being a farmer in South Africa is now the world’s most dangerous job,” she wrote.

The South African government has pushed back against these claims.

Africa Check said claims that there had been 400 farmers murdered in a year were wrong. They said the most recent statistics found that 74 people—farmers, workers, family and guests—were killed on farms and small holdings in 2016 and 2017. There were 638 attacks documented.  

Afrikaner lobby group, AfriForum said Dutton “seemingly admits that the concern of white South Africans is just as valid as that of any other citizen, while the South African authorities are only too glad to hold the community as scapegoats for problems in the country and treat them as second class citizens”.

But some Australians have pointed out the supposed double standards of their country when it came to their country helping foreigners. Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a Sudanese-Australian broadcaster and author, Tweeted “This (Dutton) is the same man who has refused to extend the same generosity to the Rohingya…”

While Australia has long abolished its official White Australia immigration policy which favored applicants from certain countries over others it’s an issue which still comes up from time to time. Most recently, Australia’s young African population had to push back at a racially sensationalized portrayal of their place in Australian society by politicians like Dutton and the local media.