In his first year in office, U.S. President Donald Trump’s attitude toward Africa was a mix of scorn, neglect and mercantilism. He reportedly called several African nations “shithole countries” and said they were places his friends went “trying to get rich.” When then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his maiden voyage to the continent in March, he went home early and was promptly fired. Africans noticed the snub.
But in Trump’s second year, there are indications his administration may be taking a new, more traditional tack, even as Trump himself continues to create crises. Late Wednesday night, Trump tweeted unexpectedly about South Africa, saying he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” The comment seemed to be based on what he’d been watching on Fox News.
There have been no widescale killings of farmers in South Africa. The government’s proposal to expropriate land, while certainly contentious among South Africans, has its own nuanced context—most of all the deep racial disparities in land ownership that still persist more than 20 years after apartheid. Trump was pushing a distorted issue that has been a rallying cry of white nationalists and white supremacists for several years, provoking ire in South Africa. On Thursday, a spokesperson for South Africa’s ruling African National Congress called Trump “a modern leader of the Ku Klux Klan.”