BRUCE HAIGH. Dutton ventures where fools fear to tread

The Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, has gratuitously interfered in the internal affairs of South Africa. His comments on what he termed ‘the horrific circumstances’ relating to white South African farmers, at the urging of white right-wing extremists, has done harm to finely balanced race relations in South Africa and to the relationship between the two countries.

Had he sought a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs he would have discovered that the situation relating to the ‘persecution’ of white farmer’s bears no resemblance to his ill-informed remarks. The Australian High Commission in Pretoria keeps DFAT well informed.

I feel qualified to comment. As a young diplomat posted to South Africa at the height of Apartheid, 1976-79, I chose to assist those opposing the regime. There seemed little point in helping it to survive. Apartheid was not something to be observed, like the fundamental evil of Fascism, it had to be destroyed.

For me there was no other option. I sheltered people running from the police in my home, I delivered messages for people who were banned and could not use phones for fear of interception and police brutality and I took people to safety in neighbouring countries under the protection of my diplomatic immunity.

I got to know many activists including Steve Biko, Zwelakhe Sisulu, Dr Nthato Motlana, Dr Mamphela Ramphele and Donald Woods, whom I assisted in leaving South Africa. This escape was portrayed in the Richard Attenborough film, ‘Cry Freedom’. Together with my predecessor, Di Johnstone, I helped found Ifa Lethu, which amongst other things assists with the education of youngsters in black townships.

No independent observer will deny that attacks on farm properties have occurred. The reasons vary. South Africa has a population of 56 million; in 2016-17, 19,000 murders were committed of which 74 occurred on farms, of these 60 per cent were white farmers, their families and/or friends, 34 per cent were black workers and 5 per cent were Asian. There were 49 deaths in 2015-16; 72 per cent of agricultural land is owned by white farmers with whites comprising 8 per cent of the population. South Africa ranks tenth in the world in relation to violent deaths. Jamaica ranks sixth and Brazil sixteenth, with a population of 200 million had 65,000 murders in 2012.

Black violence is endemic in South Africa with blacks living in poverty most likely to be affected.

Fatal violence associated with theft also affects whites in the suburbs. Black violence is a sad legacy of Apartheid which relied on the use of state sponsored armed force to exist and maintain the segregation of blacks from whites. The system was cruel and ruthless and the response to it was often violent.

Some white farmers have not accepted change. They continue to support the notion of Apartheid of which they were a primary beneficiary; they are right wing and often treat their black work force badly, showing little respect, with some resorting to violence as a means of enforcing their will.

Some still fly the old South African flag. They live in the past. It is these sad and divisive characters that Dutton has chosen to support.

Land re-distribution was not addressed by the corrupt President Zuma. The new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has put it back on the agenda much to the annoyance of white farmers who are alleging persecution. Ramaphosa, who I know to be a good person, is seeking to act in the interests of all of South Africans. Reform is overdue, it is 25 years since Apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became President.

As a nation Australia was at the fore in seeking to end Apartheid. Dutton is destroying a legacy which was difficult to achieve and hard to build. Former Prime Minister Abbott, who has joined with Dutton on the issue, did not oppose Apartheid.

The South African government is offended and angry and is disinclined to let the issue rest. It said it was, ‘…offended by the statement which has been attributed to the Australian Home Affairs Minister and a full retraction is expected.’ In offering fast track visas to South African farmers Dutton had the temerity to state that they were being offered protection in a ‘civilised country’. The arrogance of that statement has left South Africa gob smacked.

They are saying in what way does Dutton consider Australia civilised in light of his policies toward refugees?

Left unaddressed Dutton’s statement will affect trade, business, sporting and educational relationships. There are currently 52 Australian travel agents touring South Africa as guests of SA Tourism, it can be expected that if relations deteriorate these exchanges will end. Last year 10.3 million tourists visited South Africa.

Dutton needs to realise he has committed a major diplomatic gaffe. He has brought shame on Australia. Given the mood of the South African government nothing short of an apology is likely to satisfy them.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Australian Diplomat

This article first appeared in the Canberra Times on March 23 2018

print

This entry was posted in International Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to BRUCE HAIGH. Dutton ventures where fools fear to tread

  1. Brian Camilleri says:

    Bruce Haigh has left out some critical matters. The issue is not the killing of white farmers. This has gone on for a long time. The issue is that Julius Malena – a left wing extremist and his party has been calling for the expropriation of land from white farmers without compensation. The ANC is politically on the nose and is losing ground to Malena’s group on the left. The new President and the ANC has now also supported a resolution that the land of white farmers be expropriated without compensation. The SA Constitution does not allow that at present so there needs to be a constitutional amendment to affect expropriation without compensation. Of course expropriation without compensation is a form of ethnic cleansing and a dark form of racism. Seen in that context Mr. Dutton’s remarks might be premature but if SA goes down the route suggested by Malena and now supported by Ramaphosa then Australia can act if it is in Australia’s interest to do so. No one is suggesting that more black farmers should not have access to land. It is the wholesale eviction and the dark method called for which is being complained about. As we saw in Zimbabwe the group likely to benefit are the cronies of the group in power and a weakening of the economy. Hopefully this is posturing by Ramaphosa and what he says he is prepared to do and what he will do are not the same. We shall see.

    • Joan Seymour says:

      You may very well be right – I don’t know, and I know I don’t know. But this isn’t what Peter Dutton said. He may have been informed by DFAT that there’s a serious issue of justice that we need to be aware of. However, his ignorant and uncivil comment is unlikely to support the subtle and (usually) respectful work done by our career diplomats in Pretoria, and the only victory will be for division and injustice in Australia as well as South Africa.

  2. Jim KABLE says:

    I know who Bruce HAIGH is – and his bona fides in offering comment on the ignorant commentary of Peter DUTTON but I do not recognise the name of Brian CAMILLERI. In any event – so far – not one South African farmer of whatever background (though I guess we are all assuming of Afrikaner background) has stepped forward to be be interviewed and to be seen/identified as seeking any assistance whatsoever from Peter DUTTON. I think it is a straw dog of Dutton’s own creation. But the apology being sought – (so far not forthcoming it seems) – from Dutton – and the current revelations of the cricket “cheating” in South Africa – will both be enough to convince South Africa that the apartheid kind of character they once represented is the new mantle – duplicitous and racist – now worn by their counterpart nation across the Indian Ocean. Shame Australia/Dutton! Shame!

Comments are closed.