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A farm worker in Bothaville. Photo: Wikus de Wet/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump weighed in on a surprising new issue in a tweet on Wednesday night, speaking out against the South African government seizing land "from white farmers."

The big picture: His tweet was spurred by Fox News host Tucker Carlson's criticism of the State Department's failure to address the situation. While South Africa's government is moving to expropriate land without compensation — a highly controversial move against the country's colonial, apartheid past — there is no evidence to support a "large scale killing of farmers," as Trump claimed in his tweet.

The backdrop

In 1913, the Natives Land Act kept black Africans from purchasing or renting land in "white South Africa," the BBC reports. In 1994, with the end of apartheid, the African National Congress said it would return 30% of land to its previous owners by 2014.

  • White South Africans make up 8% of the population, per the WSJ, but own 73% of agricultural land.
What's happening now

The ANC plans to change the constitution to "allow the expropriation of land without compensation in an effort to overcome deep inequalities in land ownership," the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa "urged consideration of expropriation without compensation, so long...as the government's actions didn't threaten the economy or food security," the Washington Post reports.
  • Reform has so far "been led by voluntary sales by white farmers...at market prices," per the Journal. There have not yet been land seizures, according to CBS News.
  • Ramaphosa says he is aiming to "undo a grave historical injustice" against black South Africans during "colonialism and the apartheid era," per CBS.

Be smart: Land owners have the right to challenge government actions in court.

What to watch

Crimes like robbery and rape on farms have increased in the last two years, though the number of attacks (561) is "still far off" from the 2001/02 high (1,069), according to the WSJ.

  • There have been reports of violence against white South African farmers, though the number of farmers killed in the last 20 years has "declined...and reached a low of 47 people killed in 2017/18."
  • CBS' Debora Patta reported that the issue of crime against farmers, and land expropriation, are two separate issues. "There is no such thing" as a white genocide in South Africa — "[a] high murder rate has nothing to do with land seizures or anti-white sentiment."
  • Out of the 19,016 murders in the country between April 2016 and March 2017, 66 of those occurred on farms, the New York Times reports. Between 2001 and 2002, there were 140 recorded murders on farms.
What they're saying

Fox News' Tucker Carlson criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday night for not addressing what's happening in South Africa, which he said "should be getting worldwide attention."

President Trump tweeted afterwards, quoting Carlson:

"I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. 'South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.' @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews"

The South African government responded:

"South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past. #landexpropriation @realDonaldTrump @PresidencyZA"

Go deeper

Democrats drubbing Trumpless GOP on social media

Data: Twitter/CrowdTangle (Feb 24, 2021); Chart: Will Chase/Axios

In a swift reversal from 90 days ago, Democrats are now the ones with overpowering social media muscle and the ability to drive news.

The big picture: Former President Donald Trump’s digital exile and the reversal of national power has turned the tables on which party can keep a stranglehold on online conversation.

Here come Earmarks 2.0

DeLauro at a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to announce details of a plan to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.

Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
52 mins ago - Health

New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

New research is bolstering the case for delaying second doses of coronavirus vaccines.

Why it matters: Most vulnerable Americans remain unvaccinated heading into March, when experts predict the more infectious virus variant first found in the U.K. could become dominant in the U.S.