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S.Africa hails Australia ‘retraction’ on offer to white farmers

The Pretoria government hailed Monday what it said was a decision by Australia to go back on plans to offer fast-track humanitarian visas to “persecuted” white farmers in South Africa.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton triggered outrage last month when he said the farmers deserved special attention for acceptance in his country on refugee or humanitarian grounds.

Dutton, who has drawn international criticism for heading a tough crackdown on asylum-seekers from Asia and the Middle East, said the plan would enable the farmers to flee their “horrific circumstances” for a “civilised country”.

His offer was in response to a pledge by the South African government to enact land expropriations without compensation to redress land confiscations of the colonial and apartheid era.

Pretoria subsequently summoned Australia’s envoy to South Africa.

“We have received a letter from the (Australian ministry of) foreign affairs that indicated that what was said by the minister of home affairs is not the position of the government of Australia,” foreign ministry spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya told AFP on Monday.

“We also had a meeting with the high commissioner [ambassador] who conveyed a message from the prime minister, who said the same thing, to indicate that this is not the view of their government.”

South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had made a “retraction” of Dutton’s comments, and she welcomed it.

“We must emphasise, as we have stated before, that no one is being persecuted in South Africa, including white farmers. We call upon all non-governmental organisations to desist from spreading untruths and misleading information,” she said in a statement.

“South Africa is a law-abiding country and, through a constitutional process, it will arrive at solutions on land redistribution that will take the country forward without violating anyone’s rights.”

Land is a hugely divisive topic in South Africa, where 72 percent of individually-owned farms are in white hands 24 years after the end of white-minority apartheid rule.

By contrast just four percent of such land is owned by black people, according to an audit cited by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

According to police, 74 farmers were murdered between 2016 and 2017 in South Africa, which has one of the world’s highest crime rates.

Up to 500,000 white South Africans have left the country in the past 30 years, according to official statistics, with Australia ranking as the top destination.