Cape Town — President Barack Obama's ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, has attacked President Donald Trump's claim that the country's farmers are being killed on a "large scale".
The former U.S. envoy accused Trump of trying to distract attention from the convictions in New York and Virginia respectively of his long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, and former campaign chief Paul Manafort.
"This man (Trump) has never visited the continent and has no discernible Africa policy," Gaspard tweeted in reply to Trump on Thursday.
"The President of the US needs political distractions to turn our gaze away from his criminal cabal, and so he's attacking South Africa with the disproven racial myth of 'large scale killings of farmers'."
Gaspard was a Democratic Party leader when Obama appointed him as the U.S. ambassador to South Africa.
He is a frequent critic of Trump and his allies. In his first response to Cohen's conviction on charges including violating campaign finance laws, he re-tweeted a 2015 attack by Cohen on presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton.
Cohen had told Clinton that "when you go to prison for defrauding America and perjury, your room and board will be free!" To which Gaspard responded on Wednesday: "Oh fine day!"
Later, reacting to Cohen implicating the president in campaign law violations, Gaspard tweeted: "An admitted and convicted felon just named the President of the United States as his co-conspirator. Drink that in."
Trump has not yet appointed a replacement for Gaspard as ambassador.
Joining the criticism, the two senior members of the U.S. Senate Africa Subcommittee Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), issued a joint statement: "President Trump's unfortunate tweet in response to a Fox News broadcast should not distract the United States from improving relations with South Africa.As members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we care deeply about the United States' relationships with all African countries. Constructive relationships require measured dialogue as opposed to arbitrary tweets."
Also on Thursday, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives sub-committee on Africa, Karen Bass, lashed out at Trump for basing his tweet on a Fox News broadcast. She said the president was "taking policy recommendations from cable news hosts running stories from white nationalist apartheid sympathizers. The mass killing that happened in South Africa was that of Black Africans during apartheid."
There's a danger in conducting foreign policy by tweet after viewing a single press report. First, land reforms have been proposed in parliament in South Africa, but not yet adopted. Second, there is no 'large scale killing of farmers' going on in South Africa.
The United States and South Africa share a history of racial injustice and reconciliation, and our relationship deserves more a clear-eyed and thoughtful approach.
Instead of inserting himself into a sensitive and complicated debate in South Africa over how to rectify decades of apartheid-era land ownership policies, President Trump should support President Ramaphosa’s efforts to reform the South African economy.
The President of the United States is taking policy recommendations from cable news hosts running stories from white nationalist apartheid sympathizers. The mass killing that happened in South Africa was that of Black Africans during apartheid.