Former US ambassador to SA slams Trump for spreading 'dangerous racial myth'

2018-08-24 14:48
Wind blows President Donald Trump's tie as he arrives at Orlando International Airport. (Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Wind blows President Donald Trump's tie as he arrives at Orlando International Airport. (Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel via AP)

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"A grenade tossed to hurt one of America's most important allies in Africa, and ultimately the American people."

That was the view expressed by former United States ambassador to South Africa and president of the Open Society Foundations, Patrick Gaspard, in an op-ed in the New York Daily News.

Gaspard was, of course, referring to US President Donald Trump's tweet that there is "large scale killing of farmers" in South Africa and that government has started to seize white farmers' land.

"It’s hard to know which is worse: watching the President of the United States taking policy notes from rabid talking heads on Fox News, or seeing an unindicted co-conspirator attempting to divert our gaze away from his criminal cabal by seeking to legitimise a dangerous racial myth about another country," Gaspard wrote in his scathing op-ed.

"By blundering into an issue that remains of existential importance for the future of South Africa’s economy, and by lifting up the voices of racist extremists, Trump does great harm to the search for justice in South Africa. He also hurts American interests."

Likewise, the New York Times, in an editorial headlined "Trump's Vile Ploy on South Africa", criticised the president for getting his "intelligence briefings from Fox News" and repeating "a white nationalist myth".

"Mr. Trump’s tweet, and the Fox show on which it was based, were bereft of any context, sympathy or understanding. They pounced, instead, on the false narratives of right-wing white South African groups claiming widespread seizures of white-owned land and a continuing 'white genocide'," the editorial read.

John Stremlau, the visiting professor of International Relations at Wits University and former vice president for peace programmes at The Carter Centre, said Trump's tweet had very little to do with South Africa and everything to do with Trump himself.

"Never underestimate the vanity of Donald Trump as an overwhelming motivator," he said. "He is in trouble and, the day before this Twitter event happened, two of his advisors were convicted. His tweet was therefore a distraction, but it also turned out to be a no-brainer in his self-centred universe. His support base is fired up about white ethnic nationalism, doesn't like trade and would see pressuring of South Africa to protect white farmers as the right thing to do.

"If this teaches us anything, it is that you can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts, and that we must have responsible journalists. This was the result of absolutely irresponsible journalism on the part of Tucker Carlson. Of course, he is an entertainer, not a journalist."

Stremlau echoed Gaspard's concerns about the fact that Trump has never been to Africa and has yet to appoint an ambassador to South Africa. He says it's clear that he is not serious about relations with the African continent. From a South African perspective, it is also not possible to have serious relations with a country whose president briefs his secretary of state via social media.

"You cannot have serious relations with an administration that behaves this way. I think the South African government responded very responsibly to the tweet. But this is not about Africa. This is about Trump's domestic politics. He has cruelly and unfairly complicated relations with an important partner just to advance his particular interests and to protect his base while he's under threat."

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