Minority rights lobby group AfriForum has laid a formal complaint against President Cyril Ramaphosa and Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, in her capacity as former minister of international relations and cooperation, with the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.
AfriForum deputy CEO Ernst Roets said the complaint stemmed from a statement Ramaphosa made on farm murders and land grabs during a visit to the US in September 2018.
Roets said the charge was aimed at Ramaphosa's reaction to US President Donald Trump's tweet in August 2018 that he had instructed his secretary of state to investigate land grabs and farm murders in South Africa.
Speaking on the sidelines of a Bloomberg Global Business Forum event in New York on September 26, 2018, Ramaphosa told the financial news service that Trump had been misinformed.
Asked by Bloomberg whether he had spoken to Trump about the matter, Ramaphosa said: "… we were seated together at the lunch table, so we never really got time to talk about the tweet. It was just an opportunity to shake hands and to say, 'how are you?' and all that.
"But on the tweet, itself, it was clearly misinformed and whoever gave him that information was completely wrong. There are no killings of farmers or white farmers in South Africa, there's no land grabs in South Africa.
Discussing land reform
"We are involved in a process of discussing land reform. Land was the original sin in the history of South Africa, we are seeking to put right what was done wrong many hundreds of years ago when the majority of the land mass of the country was appropriated by a minority. What we are seeking to do now is to balance that equation and make sure that the land in our country is shared by all South Africans who live in it.
"And that is an inclusive process that seeks an outcome that will lead to social cohesion, that will remove the threat and risk of instability. So, we're managing a risk," he told Bloomberg."There's no land grab in South Africa."
Ramaphosa's statement came after AfriForum visited the US in May 2018 to create awareness of the South African government's policy of expropriation without compensation and the associated land grabs, as well as for farm murders, said Roets.
Shortly after Trump's tweet, he expressed his happiness that their lobbying had had an impact.
Although some South Africans criticised Trump for his interference, Ramaphosa also came under fire for his comments, with some people accusing him of lying.
"There is no one in SA targeting white people or farmers"
Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko then said Ramaphosa was referring to allegations of large-scale killings of white farmers.
"He meant it in the context of the mass killings of farm workers, as inferred by Trump. There is no one in SA targeting white people or farmers. Crime is happening in all our communities," Diko added at the time.
At the time, Roets said he expected anger from the majority party, the ANC, but believed this would be "hypocritical" because the party's members had used the same international lobbying against the apartheid government.
AfriForum's CEO, Kallie Kriel, previously described apartheid as "wrong", but not necessarily a crime against humanity.
"What I said … is that a crime against humanity is the gassing of six million Jews in gas chambers. In my view, you cannot equate that to the 700 people that were killed by the security police during apartheid."
In his complaint to the Special Rapporteur, Roets also added that, Sisulu - who was the minister of international relations and cooperation at the time - had responded to AfriForum's tour to the US by accusing Trump and AfriForum of spreading "blatant lies" and "misinformation" about South Africa.
AfriForum is requesting in its complaint that the Special Rapporteur obtain a commitment from Ramaphosa and the South African government that it will effectively protect it as a human rights defender.
Gross human rights violations
"To hold Ramaphosa and the South African government responsible for their alleged attempts at discrediting AfriForum's efforts to raise international awareness about gross human rights violations, particularly against minorities, in South Africa, Ramaphosa and Sisulu should retract their statements on an international platform," Roets said.
"Farm murders, the expropriation of property without compensation and land grabs are serious issues where human rights have already been violated and in respect of which many people's rights would still be violated if these tendencies are not stopped.
"The first step in addressing these issues is to admit that it exists. It is very worrying that the South African government ignores these issues locally, but it is unacceptable for the president to completely deny the existence of these crises in the international sphere," Roets said.
He added attempts by Ramaphosa's media personnel to contextualise his statements after his return to South Africa did nothing to repair the damage that was done internationally.
Roets said they regarded farm murders and land grabs as serious violations of human rights that should be condemned by all influential role players and governments worldwide who believe in the protection of human rights.
"That is why AfriForum actively campaigns for the international recognition of the crises of farm murders, land grabs and expropriation without compensation. AfriForum will shortly announce further actions to put international awareness of these issues at the forefront," he added.