This week, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton asked his department to consider fast-tracking the visa applications of white South African farmers who want to escape the “horrific circumstances” they are forced to endure in their own country.
“If you look at the footage and read the stories, you hear the accounts, it’s a horrific circumstance they (white farmers) are in from what I have seen, they do need help from a civilised country like ours,” he is reported as saying.
Our own Department of International Relations and Cooperation had a sense of humour failure, as evidenced by the terse response: “There is no reason in the world to suspect that a section of South Africans is under danger from their own democratically elected government.”
It’s a masterful riposte - textbook diplomacy both for foreigners and locals, deliberately inclusive and reiterative of the democracy that underpins everything - and that has been in evidence on an almost weekly basis since halfway through December.
But nuance has never been the preserve of the South African debate - on any side - any more than letting the facts stand in the way of a good story has been the sole preserve of whisky sodden old hacks.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as ANC leader at Nasrec and then his deft unseating of Jacob Zuma last month has so unnerved the opposition that last weekend the DA appeared to resort by default to the age-old tactic of swart-gevaar, this time land expropriation, to get like-minded South Africans to register to vote in next year’s general elections.
To be fair, white South Africans have been under the cosh in recent months.
Zuma was playing the race card with such abandon in the lead up to his final days (and still is) - that it’s a wonder he didn’t pick up a repetitive stress injury.
The ANC policy that there should be land expropriation without compensation has also sent the twitterati and chattering classes into paroxysms of horror, nervously wondering if they shouldn’t pack for Perth.
The truth, as always, is slightly different. Ramaphosa has said there won’t be expropriation where it affects food security. By definition, that would exclude working, successful farms.
He’s also said that state-owned land, of which there are vast swathes, will be the first to be targeted for redistribution. All of this will only happen once the ANC has drawn up a proper policy document for implementation.
But, as always, this has been lost in translation - just like farm murders.
Farm murders are awful, bloody cruel, unspeakably terrifying. They deserve to be condemned in the strongest possible terms - just like all other violent crime, but statistically they do not constitute a special crime and they are certainly not a genocide.
As usual, though, there’s no debate, only knee-jerk rhetoric. The reality is that there should be parity in land redistribution, there should be restitution, there has to be.
You only have to read the opening lines in Sol Plaatje’s seminal polemic, Native Life, to understand the incredible hurt matched only by the indescribable longing for land among those whose forefathers were arbitrarily disposed of the ground they lived on more than a century ago.
"Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth."
By chapter 4, Plaatje finds himself with some African families fleeing the farms they have been thrown off:
“We are told to forgive our enemies and not to let the sun go down upon our wrath, so we breathe the prayer that peace may be to the white races, and that they, including our present persecutors of the Union Parliament, may never live to find themselves deprived of all occupation and property rights in their native country as is now the case with the Native.”
This story has been forgotten, purposefully. You can see this in the pressure cooker-cum-microscope that is social media.
There are white people who think Dutton is the only person who gets it - they're the same people who think “blacks should just get over apartheid”, while still observing Remembrance Day every November.
This week, radio talk show host Eusebius McKaiser teased out the issue on 702.
"Harold" took the cake. “It’s paradise compared to South Africa, it reminds me of South Africa in the 1970s, clean, safe, everything, for everybody.”
"Everybody," of course, is a matter of perception.
Thank God for "Tracy" in Harties, a white farmer who has been a victim of a farm attack.
Her riposte was devastating. Listen to it at: https://omny.fm/shows/mid-morning-show-702/a-tale-of-two-white-contrasting-callers
It doesn't matter in Australia - there are now commentators there calling for a South African sports boycott over the land reform issue. Truly.
It’s like living in a parallel universe. The only good news, for me, has been the number of other white South Africans, on social media and real life, who aren’t like Harold. Who are appalled at how tone-deaf Dutton and his ilk are.
There can only be one reason for them - the legions of unreconstructed white South Africans who packed for Perth in the first place.
My South Africa isn't like that. I certainly have no intent of travelling 8309km east - and 40 years back in time either. On second thoughts, maybe Dutton should get his way, but don't limit it to farmers.
We can only score out of the deal.
The Saturday Star