South Africa has demanded that Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton retract comments that suggested white farmers were being persecuted and deserved protection with special visas from a “civilised country”.
Canberra’s high commissioner Adam McCarthy been hauled in for a meeting with officials in Pretoria for a diplomatic ticking off over Mr Dutton’s remarks, which also included a description of white farmers facing “horrific circumstances”, a characterisation South Africa has rejected.
“The South African government is offended by the statements which have been attributed to the Australian Home Affairs Minister and a full retraction is expected,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop defended Mr Dutton’s remarks, denying there’s a double standard in him speaking up for white South African farmers but not Palestinian farmers persecuted by Israel.
“I reject that – what we do in our humanitarian visa program is assess visas on their merits and that’s what Peter Dutton as home affairs minister does everyday,” she told ABC radio on Friday.
But she said she and Mr Dutton were working to determine if any changes were needed to the offshore humanitarian visa program.
Commenting this week on a documentary about violent rural crime in South Africa, Mr Dutton said the farmers deserved “special attention”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian media.
“I do think, on the information that I’ve seen, people do need help and they need help from a civilised country like ours,” Mr Dutton said.
He also pointed to plans by new President Cyril Ramaphosa to allow expropriation of land as a solution to the massive land ownership inequalities that remain more than two decades after the end of apartheid.
Speaking to parliament this week, Mr Ramaphosa said South Africa was not heading down the road towards the type of violent and chaotic seizure of white-owned farms that triggered economic collapse in Zimbabwe nearly 20 years ago.
Although violent crime is a serious issue across South Africa, killings on farms, the vast majority of which are white-owned, has become a particularly racially charged issue.
Ms Bishop said Australia wanted the nation to ensure the safety of all citizens, and ensure any changes to land ownership won’t disrupt the economy or lead to violence.-