On Wednesday this week I was perplexed at the news: Australia’s Home Affairs’ Minister Peter Dutton had offered to fast-track the visa applications of white South African farmers who wished to settle Down Under as “refugees”.
Dutton cited violence, and the threat of white farmers having their land expropriation without compensation, a subject which has drawn comparisons to Zimbabwe’s chaotic land reform process at the turn of the century. First I thought it was joke, published as news by the satirical website The Onion, but then it was picked up by South Africa’s news websites which prompted a sober response from the Department of International Affairs and Cooperation.
Dutton’s appeal to his department was likely prompted by the Parliament’s recent motion on the expropriation of land without compensation, a move which has created a storm among rightwing circles across the world, and recent visits to South Africa by far-right activists who have turned the “suffering” of South Africa’s white population into a cottage industry of sorts.
While Dutton expresses concern for white farmers, and the prospect of having their land, essentially nationalised, not much is said in Australia about the conditions in which a majority of Aboriginal Australians find themselves.
Australia consistently rates amongst the best countries in the world when it comes to its human development index and its for this reason that many choose to emigrate there but in amongst the smiling faces, the Aboriginal population consistently achieve development outcomes comparable to those found in impoverished Third World countries.
And while Dutton’s was just about ready to roll out the red carpet for white South African farmers, Australia has shut its door shut to refugees on its doorstep. For years the country has paid millions to its relatively poor neighbours like Papua New Guinea to host refugees camps where those picked up at sea, hoping to land on Australian shores, are shipped off for an indefinite period while their asylum claims are considered- a process which can take years.
Consider this, millions of ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, who are being subjected to a genocide by their country’s Buddhist majority but instead of providing them with a safe haven on humanitarian grounds, refugees have been turned away, and housed in the aforementioned detention centres.
These open air prisons essentially serve the purpose of dissuading would-be refugees from undertaking the perilous journey to the land Down Under. It’s in this context that Dutton’s motives have been ridiculed, and one would not be far off to call them racist as they pander more to a considerable section of white Australia who are uncomfortable with the sight of black, brown and Muslim people in their midsts.
Until about 45 years ago, Australia’s immigration policy could be considered racist as the country would only allow in white immigrants. And only in 1978 did Australia remove the requirement from potential immigrants to fill in their country of origin.
While Dutton was born in 1970, my guess is that he would have grown up, in a neighbourhood, in a country that was very much white, and amidst angst over South Sudanese “street gangs”, Muslims and all manner of refugees coming into the country, his appeal for white South African farmers is the perfect response to a section of the Australian public without the overt racist appeals.
The belief is that white South African farmers would easily adopt the customs and culture of their new homeland since culturally they’re white Christians, whose forebears have their roots in the United Kingdom and Europe- as is the case with most of Australia’s population.
As the debate about South Africa’s land reform process rages on this year, to be used by politicians during next year’s elections. The topic will come into the conversation in more international capitals as right wing politicians use to curry favour amongst their voters who like many white farmers feel besieged by black people.
Like South African white have come to know, and what Europeans are starting to realise is that this world is interconnected. What happens in north east Nigeria, or any region where there is conflict, affects everyone as those seeking refuge flee to all parts of the world.
Australia can afford to host genuine refugees fleeing real conflict and violence which threatens their lives. But seemingly appeals to the humanity of politicians only elicits a disingenuous response which appeals more to racists than actually saving lives.
Quinton Mtyala is the Politics Editor for the Western Cape Editor