At present in South Africa there is a palpable anti-Australianism, particularly around Capetown. This is a convergence of the ball-tampering scandal and Peter Dutton’s dog-whistling.
South African citizens unfortunately believe that what Dutton says represents what Australians really think (after all, he is our Immigration Minister). It is a headache for Julie Bishop and worse for Malcolm Turnbull (he cannot afford to publicly rebuke Dutton for dog-whistling because Dutton is the most senior conservative still in his camp).
Dutton’s statement about white South African farmers deserving special refuge in a “civilized country like Australia” has provoked much ill-informed comment within Australia. All this is widely reported in South African media. Tony Abbott has even made wildly inaccurate claims that “something like 400 white farmers have been brutally murdered over the last 12 months”.
The most recent official South African Police statistics show that 74 people were murdered on farmlands in the year to March 2017. That figure includes all farmers, workers, families and visitors. Most significantly, it does not divide victims by race or by motive. There is no distinction between domestic violence, neighborhood disputes or politically motivated assassination.
It is highly ironic that it has just come to light that Dutton’s own department knocked back a white farmer’s 2015 asylum application arguing there was little evidence of racially motivated crime against white farmers. Even on appeal the tribunal ruled that “the motive of the perpetrators of crime are more likely to be based on economic need … rather than race”.
These murders have occurred in the context of a violent society. Violence stemming from 50 years of Apartheid-created inequality has been difficult to address. And years of inadequate action by former president Jacob Zuma didn’t help.
However if Australia were serious about offering a haven to victims of this violence, it should be taking young black males from the townships where deaths per population are 200 to 300 per 100,000.
Land ownership is crucial to the debate in South Africa. White commercial farmers control 73% of the arable land yet whites make up only 8.9% of the population. This imbalance is unsustainable. Previously the government has had a “willing seller, willing buyer” policy but ownership figures have hardly budged from 85% ownership at the end of Apartheid. Despite the sporadic violence, there is little evidence that white farmers are queuing up for Australian visas.
In frustration and under pressure from impoverished rural workers, the South African Parliament eventually passed legislation, which encompassed the possibility of land expropriation. However, President Cyril Ramaphosa reassured the citizens “there will be no smash and grab of land in our country”.
There is a belief in Australia that farm invasions and murders are taking place as part of government policy. South Africa is not Zimbabwe where an ideologically driven and corrupt Robert Mugabe encouraged violent home invasions for the enrichment of his cronies. South Africa is a functioning liberal democracy with a great respect for the rule of law. Not only will the expropriation legislation have to be agreed to by the provinces but it will have to be tested in the courts, which have a robust tradition of upholding the Republic’s tough constitution.
It has already been pointed out that Dutton’s Queensland seat of Dickson is a knife-edge marginal (1.5%) with a higher than average population of white South African residents, especially around Albany Creek. Two thousand Dickson voters with relatives to bring out is a huge incentive for media-magnet rhetoric.
Dutton’s two Western Australian supporters, MPs Andrew Hastie and Ian Goodenough have similar electorate issues. Perth is home to large white South African and Rhodesian communities. A right-wing Australian Liberty Alliance demonstration outside Julie Bishop’s office last week delivered a petition calling for 80% of humanitarian visas to go to white farmers.
Julie Bishop, the most senior coalition parliamentarian in Western Australia saying sensible things about non-discriminatory immigration is not helpful to this right-wing narrative.
“White farmers” seems to be our issue, not South Africa’s.
*Dr Meredith Burgmann is a former leader of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and a previous Labor President of the NSW Legislative Council. She has worked on the ‘Australians Against Apartheid’ exhibition, will open in Capetown in September after showings in Sydney, Canberra and Johannesburg.