US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo surely annoyed Pretoria and probably wrong-footed his country’s own embassy in Pretoria when he bluntly criticised the South African government’s plans to expropriate land without compensation on Wednesday as an example of failed socialist policies in Africa.
Pompeo, who was completing his first visit to Africa as state secretary, took a swipe at land reform in a major US Africa policy speech at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) in Addis Ababa, in which he heavily underscored the benefits of free enterprise as the only path to economic prosperity for Africa.
“Centralised planning hasn’t worked – look at the failed socialist experiments of years past in Zimbabwe, in Tanzania and right here in Ethiopia. Even now, as we stand here today, South Africa is debating an amendment to permit the expropriation of private property without compensation. That would be disastrous for that economy and most importantly for the South African people.
“Socialist schemes haven’t economically liberated this continent’s poorest people. But we all – everyone in this room – know the right way forward. Basic strong rule of law, respect for property rights, regulation that encourages investment. You need to get the basic laws right so that investors can come and invest their capital,” Pompeo said.
Two years ago, after the conservative advocacy group AfriForum had lobbied in the US and other countries against land expropriation without compensation, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he had instructed Pompeo to investigate “land and farm seizures” and “killing of farmers” in South Africa.
That greatly irritated President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government. No formal inquiry – and certainly no conclusion of such an enquiry – was ever revealed, but US officials have suggested that it is continuing. Pompeo’s criticism is likely to have unsettled the new US ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks, who has been trying hard to defuse the spat and to walk a tightrope between Trump’s outspoken criticism and the need to keep on good terms with her host nation.
She praised Ramaphosa and his “core” Cabinet in a recent interview with Daily Maverick and said she was confident land reform would be conducted legally and constitutionally.
She has been so positive about Ramaphosa’s government, including in its approach to land reform, that the same white conservatives who originally praised Trump for his tweet on land, recently began circulating an online petition calling for Trump to recall Marks.
And on Wednesday AfriForum entered the fray again, welcoming Pompeo’s warning “that expropriation without compensation would be catastrophic for the South African economy and the country’s population”.
AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel said Pompeo’s statement “is an enormous boost for the civil rights organisation’s international campaign to mobilise international pressure against the South African government’s plans to implement their ideology of expropriation without compensation.
“Since the US is one of South Africa’s largest trading partners, the South African government should seriously consider Pompeo’s warning and realise that ideologically-driven policies pose serious threats to the country’s economy. With unemployment rates of about 90%, Zimbabwe and Venezuela are proof that everyone but the political elite suffers when property rights are violated,” Kriel said.
He said Ernst Roets, AfriForum’s head of policy and action, and Monique Taute, manager for campaigns, had just launched the US leg of the organisation’s #TheWorldMustKnow campaign.
“This entails, among others, the mobilisation of international pressure against expropriation without compensation. Roets already gave a pre-recorded interview on Fox News with Tucker Carlson yesterday and will visit various other media institutions, opinion formers, politicians and think tanks in the US.
“Investors leave countries of their own accord when property rights in those countries are not respected. AfriForum’s attempts to generate international pressure, are indeed to ensure that investors put pressure on the South African government to save investments,” Kriel said.
In an interview with Daily Maverick from Gaborone on Wednesday, Mike McCaul, the ranking minority Republican on the US House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, agreed with Pompeo, saying land expropriation without compensation would have “terrible outcomes for the economy. It will highly discourage private investment.”
He said when US business people asked him if South Africa was a good place to invest, he would have to tell them, with this decision, “ I don’t think so.” DM
"Those who will not reason are bigots; those who cannot are fools; and those who dare not are slaves." ~ George Gordon Byron