WASHINGTON — The South African government on Thursday slammed President Donald Trump’s tweet calling for the U.S. to examine South Africa’s land and “farm seizures” from white farmers.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday night that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to look into “South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.”

The president’s missive came shortly after Fox News aired a report asserting that the South African government is “now seizing land from white farmers,” which is not true.

“South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past,” the South African government tweeted in response to Trump’s statement.

South Africa is in the throes of a racially charged national debate over land reform, a lawful process that seeks to correct the legacy of decades of white minority rule that stripped blacks of their land. Today, nearly a quarter-century after the first democratic elections, black South Africans comprise 80 percent of the population but own just 4 percent of the country’s land, according to the government.

In July, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his party would amend the constitution so the state could expropriate land without compensation to speed up the land reform process, but that has not yet happened and no land has been seized.

For years, a small but vocal group of white South Africans have claimed white farmers are the target of violent, racially motivated farm attacks. Experts say the attacks reflect the country’s generally high crime rate and that there is no evidence connecting them to the victims’ race.

Farm murders have been declining since their peak in 2001, according to research by Agri SA, an umbrella group of South African agricultural associations. In 2016-17, there were 74 murders during farm attacks, according to Africa Check , compared to 19,000 murders across the country in the same period.

On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed that Trump and Pompeo had spoken about the issue of land reform in South Africa.

“I can tell you that the Secretary and the president certainly discussed it,” Nauert said. “The president asked him to look at the current state of action with regard to land reform,” she said, and Pompeo plans to “take a look at it.”  

Nauert said that expropriation of land without compensation “would risk sending South Africa down the wrong path.” She added that the U.S. has encouraged a “peaceful and transparent debate” about land rights in South Africa, adding “that seems to be happening right now.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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