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The South African Government has said that it is

‘ … offended by the statements which has been attributed to the Australian Home Affairs Minister and a full retraction is expected.’

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton has gratuitously and outrageously interfered in the internal affairs of South Africa.

His comments on what he termed “the horrific circumstances” relating to white South African farmers, at the urging of white right-wing extremists, has done great harm to finely balanced race relations in South Africa and to the relationship between the two countries.

Had he sought a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) he would have discovered that the situation relating to the “persecution” of white farmers bears no resemblance to his ill-informed remarks. The Australian High Commission in Pretoria keeps DFAT very well informed.

I feel well qualified to comment. As a young diplomat posted to South Africa at the height of apartheid, 1976-79, I chose to assist those opposing the regime. There seemed little point in helping it to survive. Apartheid was not something to be observed, like the fundamental evil of fascism, it had to be destroyed. For me, there was no other option. I sheltered people running from the police in my home, I delivered messages for people who were banned and could not use phones for fear of interception and police brutality, and I took people to safety in neighbouring countries under the protection of my diplomatic immunity.

I got to know many activists including Steve BikoZwelakhe SisuluDr Nthato MotlanaDr Mamphela Ramphele and Donald Woods, whom I assisted in leaving South Africa. This escape was portrayed in the Richard Attenborough film, Cry Freedom. Together with my predecessor, Di Johnstone, I helped found Ifa Lethu, which, among other things, assists with the education of youngsters in black townships.

No independent observer will deny that attacks on farm properties have occurred. The reasons vary. South Africa has a population of 56 million. In 2016-17, 19,000 murders were committed of which 74 occurred on farms — of these, 60% were white farmers, their families and/or friends, 34% were black workers and 5% were of Asian origin. There were 49 deaths in 2015-16. 72% of agricultural land is owned by white farmers with whites comprising 8% of the population. South Africa ranks tenth in the world in relation to violent deaths, Jamaica ranks sixth and Brazil 16th — with a population of 200 million there were 65,000 murders in 2012.

Black violence is endemic in South Africa with blacks living in poverty are the most likely to be affected. Fatal violence associated with theft also affects whites in the suburbs. Black violence is a sad legacy of apartheid, which relied on the use of state-sponsored armed force to exist and maintain the segregation of blacks from whites. The system was cruel and ruthless and the response to it was often violent.

Some white farmers have not accepted change. They continue to support the notion of apartheid of which they were a primary beneficiary. They are often right wing and often treat their black workforce badly — showing little respect, with some resorting to violence as a means of enforcing their will. Some still fly the old South African flag. They live in the past. It is these sad and divisive characters that Dutton has chosen to support.

Land redistribution was not addressed by the corrupt former President Zuma. The new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has put it back on the agenda, much to the annoyance of white farmers who are alleging persecution. Ramaphosa, who I know to be a good person, is seeking to act in the interests of all of South Africans. Reform is overdue — it is 25 years since apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became President.

How dare Dutton seek to nurture white supremacy in South Africa? As a nation, Australia was at the fore in seeking to end apartheid. Dutton is trashing a legacy that was difficult to achieve and hard to build. Former Prime Minister John Howard did nothing to help — he did not lift a finger to oppose apartheid and nor did Abbott or any of those who have followed in his right-wing Coalition.

I know the South African Government is deeply offended and angry and will not let the issue rest until there is redress to the insult. Dutton – and for that matter, Turnbull – have no idea the harm that has been done to the relationship.

The South African Government has said that it is

‘ … offended by the statements which has been attributed to the Australian Home Affairs Minister and a full retraction is expected.’

In offering fast-track visas to South African farmers, Dutton had the temerity to state that they were being offered protection in a “civilised country”. The dumb arrogance of that statement has left not only South Africa gobsmacked but many other states in Africa and Asia. They are asking in what way does Dutton consider Australia civilised, in light of his policies toward refugees?

Left unaddressed and unrepented, Dutton’s tirade will affect trade, business, sporting and educational relationships. I have been informed by the Australian High Commission that there are currently 52 Australian travel agents touring South Africa as guests of the South African Tourism Commission. It can be expected that if relations deteriorate further, these exchanges will end. Last year, 10.3 million tourists visited South Africa.

Dutton needs to eat humble pie. This is a major diplomatic gaffe, by a man steeped in ignorant hubris. He has brought shame to Australia. Nothing short of a full apology will suffice.

It is my opinion that the right wing of Australian politics is destructive, negative, cruel and shallow; it has brought nothing of value to the country. I am sick of them.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired Australian diplomat. Among his many diplomatic postings, he served in South Africa from 1976 to 1979. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @bruce_haigh.


Duterte talks the Language of the people, he says what they want to hear.

The Philippines is undergoing unprecedented growth, last year said to be 6 per cent, fuelled by remittances and foreign investment, mainly from China and South Korea.

Traffic in the major cities is congested and the single biggest inhibitor to productivity improvement, a point made recently by the World Bank. Duterte has threatened to remove the ubiquitous Jeepney from the roads, but owners have bravely pushed back, prepared to face the gun-toting law-enforcing cowboys who pass for police.

The vigilante pogrom against the drug trade has its origins in a gun culture inherited from the United States during the 60 years it was colonial overlord. Stung by domestic and international criticism including the Catholic Church, human rights groups and the EU, which is withholding aid, Duterte announced new policing measures against alleged drug dealers, which seems to be to ask questions and shoot rather than shoot and then answer questions. He has scoffed at reports that the International Criminal Court will begin a preliminary examination of extra judicial killings associated with the drug trade. 

Duterte is popular with the people, even down to his crude and sexist ‘‘humour’’. They see him as down to earth in a Barnaby Joyce sort of way. The Philippine people have not been served well in terms of leadership over the last 70 years, with one ruling family replacing another, serving only self interest on the back of grinding poverty bolstered by large families which has the support of the church. 

Duterte talks the language of the people, he says what they want to hear; they believe he will deliver. It will not take much to convert this populism into a dictatorship, although the military remain wary of him. Nonetheless they were pleased with the extension of martial law in the province of Mindanao in January for a further 12 months. They are worried about his flirtation with China which had him claim in early February that he would not mind if the Philippines became a province of China. 

In 2012 the UN recognised the Philippines’ claim to the 13-millionhectare undersea plateau known as the Benham or Philippine Rise. A Chinese research vessel, Ke Xue Hao, recently concluded a month-long scientific survey along the rise apparently under the auspices of a secret agreement negotiated with the President’s office. China is seeking naming rights to a number of undersea features within the Philippine Basin including a ridge ‘‘discovered’’ by the Li Siguang Hoa in 2004. 

At the conclusion of the Chinese research mission Duterte announced that he would allow no more foreign exploration of the Rise, his domestic critics are cynical believing that he has rolled over to the Chinese who have not offered to share their research and Duterte has not pressed them to do so. The Philippine foreign office said contentious issues were raised at the second meeting of the six monthly Philippine-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism held in Manila on February 13, however there was no communique. 

At best, Duterte has been half hearted in opposing Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea which, with the construction of bases, is seen by most Filipinos as a fait accompli. There is concern to maintain sovereignty over territory claimed by the Philippines but there is none of the paranoia expressed in the media, national dialogue or by politicians towards China that exists in Australia. 

Concern at Chinese attempts to extend their domestic influence, and measures to contain or prevent unreasonable interference should be crafted, focused and routine but observed from a distance. Australia’s response appears mildly hysterical, racist and driven by the Murdoch press but Rupert has an axe to grind with China. 

The regional response to China has been firm and reasonable however the United States is allowed far more latitude than it deserves or has earned. Its influence is neither benign nor altruistic; as with China everything it does is designed to advance domestic interests. Through surveillance, financial expenditure, bribes and soft diplomacy it has infiltrated major institutions in Australia, particularly defence, large corporations and the political process where they intersect with US interests and requirements. 

Duterte is holding the United States at arm’s length, which is viewed favourably by the average Filipino. Ninety years of American involvement in Filipino politics has left a negative legacy. From 1944 until 1991 the US had a major military presence centred on Clark Air Force Base and the Subic Bay Naval Base (The US is applying pressure to reopen the base). 

The US translated its power and influence into supporting corrupt ruling families who gave rise to corrupt presidents and politicians who in turn supported the US presence in the Philippines. 

The United States recently deployed the carrier USS Carl Vinson with support vessels to the South China Sea, causing international flights to be diverted. 

Australia, Japan, France and Britain have all undertaken port visits to Manila. This modern gun boat diplomacy is useful in asserting a presence and interest in the region but it hasn’t caused China to change step. 

This demonstrates an admirable commitment to the Philippines. However trade and investment lags where it should be thriving in a country where English is widely spoken. Australia needs to build closer institutional ties with the Philippines as well as enhance student and people to- people ties. Incredibly there are no direct flights from Perth to the Philippines, despite both being in the same time zone. Business opportunities go begging. 

Duterte, like Trump, is thin skinned. He hates criticism, particularly relating to his appalling human rights record; however there is more to the Philippines than Duterte. 

If Malcolm Turnbull can get along with Trump, he should be able to find enough common ground to strengthen economic, educational, diplomatic and security ties with the Philippines. 

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat