Tucker Carlson’s Fox News segment on South African land reform that President Donald Trump praised on Wednesday was “filled with factual errors,” experts tell The Daily Beast.
In the piece, Carlson claimed that a land expropriation plan being considered by the South African government amounts to stealing “land from people because they are the wrong skin color,” referring to white South African landowners.
Responding to a State Department statement saying that the plan would be enacted through South Africa’s democratic process, Carlson compared the land reform push to a group of muggers robbing State Department employees.
“By their logic, as long as you outnumber them, they’ll be OK with getting robbed, because it’s democracy,” Carlson said.
Trump cited the segment in a tweet Wednesday, urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to closely study the “farm seizures” and the “large scale killing of farmers.”
Trump’s tweet won cheers from white supremacists in the United States, who have made South Africa’s land expropriation push and the supposed epidemic of farmer killings into talking points for their case that the world is on the verge of “white genocide.” But experts told The Daily Beast that Trump should think twice before basing United States foreign policy on a Fox News segment, especially this one.
The segment Trump cited is “filled with factual errors,” according to Judd Devermont, the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Carlson portrayed the South Africa land push as an attempt to wrest land from white South Africans because of their skin color. But Devermont said the land reform plan being considered by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, which aims to correct apartheid-era laws that handed lands to the white Afrikaner minority and pushed black South Africans into tribal “homelands,” wouldn’t target land owners on race.
Instead, Devermont said, a law legalizing land expropriation without compensation would apply to a wide variety of land owners, including tribal and community groups and corporations, affecting both white and black South Africans.
“It is likely to follow legal proceedings, and I think some of it will be symbolic, if it ever does happen,” Devermont said.
It's unclear how much land could be taken if South Africa legalizes expropriating land without compensation in an effort to speed up land reform efforts. Ramaphosa is considering the plan in the face of an electoral challenge from the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters party, which has called for much more aggressive land redistribution.
The Carlson segment “betrays an almost complete misunderstanding of what is going on in South Africa,” according to John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former ambassador to Nigeria in the George W. Bush administration.
Campbell pushed back on the idea, promoted in Trump’s tweet, that South Africa is facing a “large scale killing” of white farmers.
“The statement about the white killings is essentially false,” Campbell said.
While claims about a wave of farm attacks have become a popular trope for far-right groups in the United States, Campbell points to statistics from a South African agricultural group, which said in May that farm killings were at a 19-year low.
The Trump tweet inspired by Carlson’s Fox News segment threatens to add more tension to an already volatile policy debate in South Africa, according to Devermont.
“It just makes it much more contentious, and much more prone to hyperbole,” Devermont said. “And it already is a difficult conversation.”