South Africa Says Trump Tweet Polarizes Nation's Land Debate

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said it met with a representative from the U.S. Embassy and expressed its disappointment with Washington’s failure to use available diplomatic channels about land reform in the country.

President Donald Trump’s “tweet serves only to polarize the debate on this sensitive and crucial matter,” the department said in an emailed statement on Friday. “The people of South Africa, of all races, are working together through parliament and other legal platforms to find a solution to” land reform.

Trump said in a tweet that he’s asked U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations.” He was intervening in a controversy about whether South Africa should implement a policy of seizing land without paying for it in a bid to address inequalities built up during apartheid and colonial rule.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has embraced land expropriation without compensation as a means to achieve equality and racial justice -- and in a bid to steal a march on populist opponents before elections in 2019. A planned amendment to the constitution is still work in progress, with public hearings on the matter concluding this month.

Constitutional Democracy

It’s unfortunate that South Africa’s land policy is being prejudged while the process is still underway, Francois Groepe, a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, said in a Bloomberg TV interview at Jackson Hole on Thursday.

“Our country is a constitutional democracy, so whatever policy outcome is decided upon, it will comply with the requirements of our constitution and I think we should allow the process to follow,” he said. “ I do believe that this particular issue will also be dealt with in a manner that is conducive to social harmony and that enhances the economic prospects of our country.”

Trump’s comment raised concern that the U.S. could punish South Africa economically, having already sanctioned Turkey, and the rand weakened as much as 2 percent against the dollar on Thursday. South Africa is the biggest beneficiary of the African Growth & Opportunity Act, which grants many of its products duty-free access to U.S. markets.

“With any particular news flow, it is sometimes the case where the markets overreact and then the markets settle,” Groepe said. “We’ve seen a lot of volatility throughout the year, not only in terms of South Africa, but emerging markets, even if you look at how the U.S. dollar has moved, so I think volatility is just part of our lives.”

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