The South African Government has welcomed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s “retraction” of his Home Affairs Minister’s comments regarding “persecuted” white South African farmers.
Peter Dutton caused a diplomatic row last month when he said white farmers were facing “horrific circumstances” in South Africa and deserved “special attention” from a civilised country.
Pretoria immediately rejected Mr Dutton’s concerns, demanded a retraction and called in Australia’s High Commissioner to explain.
Since then, Mr Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have reiterated Australia has a non-discriminatory immigration policy and ruled out a special humanitarian intake, or visa category, for white farmers.
Those remarks have been interpreted by South Africa’s Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu as a “retraction” of Mr Dutton’s comments.
“We welcome the assurance by the Australian Government as reported in the media that the comments made by their Home Affairs Minister are not in line with Australian immigration policy,” Ms Sisulu said in a statement.
“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.”
According to reports, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs has also sent a letter to South Africa indicating “that what was said by the Minister of Home Affairs is not the position of the Government of Australia”.
A group of conservative Liberal MPs has been leading the campaign to help resettle the farmers who they claim are facing higher rates of violence and murder in South Africa.
Farm violence is a racially charged and sensitive political issue, particularly given Pretoria’s plans to seize land from farmers without compensation.
Despite Mr Turnbull’s comments, the MPs are confident the Government will find a way of assisting any persecuted farmers, albeit within the existing immigration and humanitarian programs.