The United States (US) Secretary of State’s remarks that land expropriation without compensation would be disastrous for the South African economy are just the latest comments from the US government casting aspersions on the process. Addressing Ethiopian business leaders in Addis Ababa, Mike Pompeo criticised centralised planning in economies pointing to failures in Zimbabwe and Tanzania among others before turning his attention to South Africa.

This comes despite efforts by Pretoria to explain the process to American stakeholders including a meeting between the country’s chief diplomats in 2018, soon after President Donald Trump tweeted about the matter.

It was a speech largely focused on the economic liberalisation of African countries – denouncing external influence from authoritarian governments while touting the rule of law, respect for property rights and regulations that encourage investment. “Centralised planning hasn’t worked, look at the failed socialist experiments of years past in Zimbabwe, in Tanzania, and right here in Ethiopia.

Even now, even as we stand here today, South Africa is debating an amendment to permit the expropriation of private property without compensation.  That would be disastrous for that economy, and most importantly for the South African people. Socialist schemes haven’t economically liberated this continent’s poorest people,” says US Chief Diplomat Michael Pompeo.

Watch Pompeo below explain his views:

However, that is not the genesis of US government comments on land expropriation in South Africa. President Donald Trump in fact tweeted on 22 August 2018 after watching a segment on the right-wing conservative Fox news channel that he’d asked Pompeo to closely study what he called “land and farm seizures and expropriations – and the large-scale killing of farmers”.

The State Department later confirmed its position that expropriation without compensation would send South Africa down the wrong path as explained then by former spokesperson Heather Nauert.

“I should mention that the expropriation without compensation, our position is that, that would send South Africa down the wrong path. We continue to encourage a peaceful and transparent public debate about what we continue to consider an important issue and the South Africans certainly do as well.”

A month later in New York, then International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu met behind closed-doors with Pompeo where the matter was raised and seemingly resolved. “Both of us knew what the situation is so there was no point in going into that because we had extensive discussions with the Embassy and the State Department issued the statement that clarified our position however he did say that he thought that we needed to pay attention to explaining our position on the land issue, I agreed, very eager to do that.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa himself has been at pains to explain the process unfolding in South Africa during his foreign trips, including at the Council on Foreign Relations during the same New York visit in 2018.

“Whatever finally happens everything will be done in terms of the law, there will not be any land grab allowed in South Africa, we’ll do it in terms of our constitution. Be rest assured, we’re going to resolve it and if Mr Trump was here I would have told him, Mr Trump be rest assured this problem is going to be solved in the typical South African way because we’ve been able to solve our problems in the past.”

A request for comment from the Department of International Relations is being considered.

Click on the provinces to see land distribution figures according to race: