Media excuses for South African abuses ring hollow

Media excuses for South African abuses ring hollow
Parliament of the Republic of South Africa. (Image: Screen grab of RSA video, YouTube via CNSNews)

Even a democratic government is not supposed to take its citizens’ property without compensation. As the Supreme Court explained in Armstrong v. United States (1960), the “guarantee that private property shall not be taken for a public use without just compensation was designed to bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.” Violations of basic rights cannot be justified based on the fact that the public as a whole supports those violations.

But progressive journalists defend South Africa’s planned seizures of white-owned farms for little or no compensation by citing the fact that the country’s government is democratically elected. (Never mind that South Africa’s government is notoriously corrupt and allegedly discriminates not only against whites but also against other minorities, such as racially-mixed “Cape Coloureds”).

Writing in the Washington Post, Erik Wemple praised the planned seizures as “democracy in action” because South Africa’s democratically-elected “parliament” is planning to “to change South Africa’s Constitution in order to legalize the seizure of property without compensation.” Would he have praised segregation in the State of Maryland based on the fact that it was enacted by Maryland’s democratically-elected legislature?  (In Maryland and Kentucky, unlike many southern states, black people never lost their right to vote, so the existence of segregation in those states was, sadly, the result of democracy, not of black disenfranchisement).

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The Council on Foreign Relations published a commentary by John Campbell that echoes some of Wemple’s milder points. Campbell argues that expropriation of land in South Africa is rendered more acceptable by virtue of the fact that “South Africa is a constitutional democracy.” As he notes, “The governing African National Congress has called for constitutional amendments that could broaden or clarify the government’s current ability to expropriate land without compensation,” a power that it — and Campbell — argue “already exists in the constitution as it is.”

As Campbell notes:

President Trump tweeted on August 22 that he has directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures” and the “large scale killing of farmers.” In his tweet, the president quoted Fox News host Tucker Carlson that “South African government is now seizing land from white farmers.” Carlson had interviewed Marian Tupy, a senior policy analyst at a conservative Washington think tank, who recently penned an article calling on Trump to “warn South Africa on land expropriations,” comparing the new South African policy with that of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is a neighboring country to South Africa. It seized the land of its white farmers. As a result, agricultural production collapsed, and Zimbabwe’s economy imploded, resulting in widespread malnutrition among its black majority population. Having learned nothing from this, South Africa now plans to follow in Zimbabwe’s footsteps, taking white-owned farms without compensation.

Campbell excuses South Africa’s actions by pointing to the fact that it is a democracy and that the seizures will be allowed by constitutional amendments. But a constitutional amendment does not justify basic human rights violations, which violate both natural rights and international human-rights treaties. Property rights are protected by Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Rights adopted by the United Nations. It provides that “(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others” and “(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

No one would defend genocides committed by governments in the New World against Native Americans based on the fact that some of them were committed by democratically-elected governments. Nor would journalists defend even milder violations of rights committed against non-Europeans by democratically-elected governments. For example, U.S. media quite rightly depict negatively Pakistan’s discriminatory constitutional amendment depriving its Ahmadi Muslim minority of various rights (such as the right to obtain a passport). They criticize it even though it was enthusiastically approved by a referendum of Pakistani voters and strongly supported by the elected Prime Minister, Zulkifar Ali Bhutto.

So the fact that South African whites are of European origin does not justify depriving them of their property without compensation.  Nor does the fact that whites were historically advantaged in South Africa. Whites were historically advantaged in the United States as well. But no U.S. court ruling has ever allowed white-owned property to be taken without compensation based on this fact. Indeed, even lesser benefits cannot be denied based on a white person’s race. In 1976, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that whites are protected by the civil-rights laws against being fired based on their race, in McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co. Courts have also consistently ruled that it is illegal for blacks to racially harass their white co-workers, in cases such as Huckabay v. Moore (1998) and Bowen v. Missouri Department of Social Services (2002).

South Africa’s government has begun seizing land from white farmers for only “a tenth of” its market value. As the 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.

Media entities such as CNN and the Washington Post have not educated their readers about the negative economic consequences of such seizures for South Africa’s people. Instead, they have served as cheerleaders for the South African government.

For example, CNN posted an article arguing that Trump was peddling a “white supremacist talking point.” The false insinuation was that Trump raised the plight of South Africa’s white farmers only out of “white supremacist” sympathies. In reality, just before Trump tweeted about South Africa, the Cato Institute’s Marian Tupy, a Ph.D and expert on Africa who has briefed the CIA and the State Department, published a commentary titled “Trump Should Warn South Africa on Land Expropriations.” And then, he appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show to make the same points.

Tupy is very definitely not a “white supremacist,” as CNN well knew. Tupy has appeared on CNN before, and even if CNN had somehow misplaced his phone number, his contact information on the Internet includes his phone number and email address. Moreover, the Cato Institute, which employs Tupy, has routinely taken positions that one does not associate with being a “white supremacist,” such as supporting expanded immigration from the Third World. Indeed, it filed court briefs against Trump’s travel ban restricting entry by people from seven predominantly-Muslim countries.

Seizing white-owned farms proved so disastrous in neighboring Zimbabwe that even many black farmers in South Africa oppose seizing white-owned land. South Africa’s union of black farmers, the National African Farmers Union, has questioned the wisdom and practicality of the South African government’s proposals. And for good reason: Seizing land without compensation will inevitably reduce land values, shrink agricultural production, and harm the country’s banks, which have mortgages on the land. That will result in less credit being available for farmers of all races.

Jerome Woehrle

Jerome Woehrle

Jerome Woehrle is a retired attorney and author, who writes about politics.


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