South Africa’s government has begun seizing land from white farmers for only “a tenth of” its market value. And it is moving to change the country’s constitution to explicitly allow the South African government to seize white land without paying any compensation at all.
Neighboring Zimbabwe seized the land of white farmers, and doing so destroyed its economy: It resulted in widespread malnutrition among black farm workers who used to work on white farms, and an exodus of white farmers from the country. South Africa has learned nothing from Zimbabwe’s tragic history, and is now seizing land owned by whites for nominal amounts of money. Even South Africa’s union of black farmers, the National African Farmers Union, thinks this is a bad idea. It will reduce land values, shrink agricultural production, and harm the country’s banks, which have mortgages on the land, as well as harming farm owners and most black farm workers.
But “news” reporters here in the U.S. don’t like being reminded of these realities. After President Donald Trump criticized the seizures and the treatment of white farmers by South Africa, media organs rushed to take issue with Trump’s criticism, including CNN, and newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times. They depict the seizure of white farms as an act “to redress racial inequalities.” Their thinking seems to be that the land seizure must perforce help South Africa’s blacks because it harms whites, apparently viewing economics as a zero sum game in which harming one group of people must benefit another. They avoided quoting the many South African economists critical of the seizures or the concerns about the seizures expressed by the black farmers union. Nor did most of them disclose to their readers the fact that neighboring Zimbabwe had tried the same approach, with tragic results. Nor did they quote the scholars at a well-known free-market think tank (the Cato Institute) who had asked President Trump to take action.
Instead, the media depicted Trump as promoting the “rallying cry of far right movements” and “white nationalists.” Lost in their slanted coverage was the fact that economically harmful policies can end up harming many groups other than just the group targeted, as the economy enters a downward spiral. Life is not a zero-sum game. In suggesting otherwise, the media promote racial division and economic ignorance.
As CNN noted, “Trump tweeted late Wednesday that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ‘closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.'” Hundreds of white farmers have been tortured and killed after crime in South Africa skyrocketed after 1990, as South Africa’s criminal justice system became more ineffective and permissive (the death penalty, for example, was abolished, predictably leading to increased murder rates, which often rise when countries abolish the death penalty). South Africa has made little effort to solve many of the murders, whose brutality sometimes suggests a racial motive. The killings are not a new phenomenon: Killings peaked in 1998 when 153 white farmers were killed.
The land seizures have only recently begun. As England’s Daily Express newspaper notes:
South Africa’s government has begun seizing land from white farmers, targeting two game farms in the northern province of Limpopo after talks with the owners to buy the properties collapsed.
A secret government list of additional farms to be seized was leaked. Planned sales of some of those farms fell through after buyers realized they would be seized for at best a small fraction of their true value. No one wants to buy an asset that the government is about to seize for little or no compensation. That cost the farm owners “millions of rand” in losses.