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04/05/2018 07:21 SAST | Updated 04/05/2018 12:11 SAST

AfriForum's U.S. Adventure: Playing With Fire, Just Like In Oz

The Afrikaner-rights group is taking its perceptions on land reform and farm murders to the U.S. Is it the same as the narrative the Australians believe?

Happy campers... AfriForum's Ernst Roets and Kallie Kriel in transit to the U.S. earlier this week.
Twitter/@ErnstRoets
Happy campers... AfriForum's Ernst Roets and Kallie Kriel in transit to the U.S. earlier this week.

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AfriForum, the Afrikaner-rights group based on the corner of DF Malan and Union Avenue in Centurion, has sent its two strongest advocates to the U.S. to spread its perceptions on land reform and farm murders to a country gripped by a new nationalistic fervour.

Kallie Kriel, the group's CEO, and Ernst Roets, his deputy, have been tweeting about progress during their junket to the U.S. while jousting with critics on social-media platforms about the legitimacy of their mission — which is to tell the world about a "lying" South African government that "refuses to tackle" farm attacks and that is "preparing to do away with" property rights.

This message has found fertile ground in recent months, with some Australian media uncritically lapping up every morsel about conditions in this country. Aussie newspapers and television announced, without anyone correcting them, that President Cyril Ramaphosa "vowed to seize white land", while inserts appeared on news and other current affairs programmes that "the white South African minority is being targeted".

NewsCorp, the Australian media house owned by controversial tycoon Rupert Murdoch, even sent its chief correspondent Paul Toohey on a four-week trip to South Africa to investigate what was happening. And boy, he did not disappoint.

Toohey was all over Australian media for weeks, regularly appearing on Sky News Australia sketching out the supposedly appalling conditions under which white South Africans, and especially farmers, have to eke out a living, while an antagonistic government allegedly washes its hands of the bloodletting in the countryside.

In one interview, Sky presenter Andrew Bolt asked Toohey what future farmers have, given the violence and threats to property rights, claiming: "Their assets are close being worth nothing, they have no future, they're under attack... the country clearly isn't for them."

Toohey responded by — again — misleading the public, repeating that Ramaphosa "wants to take white land" and adding that the government is taking "specific measures against white South Africans".

It's unclear whether AfriForum was Toohey's guide on his four-week safari to these shores, but the organisation did say it provided assistance to a "prominent Australian journalist" when he visited the country, and that since then, "numerous" stories had appeared in that country's media.

Toohey also liberally quoted AfriForum in his reportage, and interviewed victims of crime regularly used by the organisation in its marketing campaigns.

A quick Google search returns some headlines from his reporting:

Horror tales from South African farmers in The Australian;

South Africa's white farmers attacked, raped and forced from land in The Daily Telegraph;

White minority 'targeted' in South Africa in the Courier Mail; and

Rights groups silent on the whites of South Africa in The West Australian.

Sky News Australia wasn't to be outdone. A search on their website reveals inserts with various incendiary titles, including:

White farmers face surge of violence in South Africa;

White farmers facing a grim future in South Africa;

White South Africans 'are under attack' by their government; and

White South African farmers face 'a pending genocide'.

Besides Peter Dutton, the Australian home affairs minister who controversially came out in support of the "white genocide" myth, the messaging about white persecution has also become the cause cèlébre of right-wing Jewish activist Avi Yemini, who was supported in an anti-Muslim campaign by the Australian Liberty Alliance, a minor political party.

In the U.S., the issue of farm murders has also been pushed onto the agenda of the right and far-right media, with Breitbart hosting a town-hall event at which prominent conservative commentator Anne Coulter repeated the narrative that "a genocide" is taking place in South Africa. Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, on his popular programme InfoWars, recently claimed that white farmers should "evacuate" the country because "angry blacks" are going to kill them. (Jones interviews the fringe group Suidlanders' leader Simon Roche in the clip below.)

This is the environment in which Kriel, Roets and AfriForum are operating — one fired up by ethnic nationalism and deep-seated racial prejudice, where fears are stoked and prejudices reinforced. Toohey's reporting was at best cheap and sloppy, and at worst reckless and irresponsible.

The message Kriel and Roets are taking to the U.S. is anyone's guess, but they don't seem to agree that there is an urgent need for expansive land reform to address the legacy of dispossession. They also don't seem to agree with historical redress, even though they nominally say they do, but generally skirt around the issue.

Take Roets' appearance on PowerFM on Wednesday night. Part of his reasoning was to attempt to equate the dispossession of black South Africans with that of whites under apartheid, as if the limited and localised expropriation of white farms in Ciskei (to create homelands) is comparable to the wholesale institutional subjugation of the black population over the course of centuries.

He asked fellow panellist Naledi Chirwa (whose name he could not recall) to tell him "how many" blacks were dispossessed "and where" it happened. He agreed that restitution must happen, but said that if land was stolen by "person A" from "person B", it does not give "person X" the right to take the land that belongs to "person Y".

White people today, he seemed to argue, cannot be held responsible for historical injustices — and besides, why should a black individual benefit from the redistribution of land, if that person wasn't directly involved in events from decades ago?

Roets and his fellow ideologues seem committed to an absolutist approach to the past, without recognising the reality this country is facing in the here and now: we haven't adequately dealt with our torrid and divided history. And land is intrinsically part of that history.

We will have to tackle our complicated problems in a sophisticated, moral and just manner — there's simply no way around it, and no populist pandering will change that fact. It seems they have never considered Faulkner's famous adage that, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

AfriForum is slick. It has money. It has influence. It has social media. It has many prominent apologists. It has also cottoned on to the U.S. alt-right's favourite tactic, which is to debase, belittle and insult their critics: Roets dismissed them on PowerFM as "talking rubbish", and on Thursday Kriel branded critical journalists "activists" while questioning their ethics.

A runaway wildfire was lit in Australia. Now it seems Kriel and Roets are playing with matches in the U.S.