LARGE crowds of protesters chanting “thank you, Australia” and “thank you, Mr Dutton” marched through Brisbane’s CBD on Sunday in support of the government’s offer to bring persecuted South African farmers to Australia under the humanitarian program.
The march, organised by the Brisbane South African community and supported by Liberal backbencher Andrew Laming and independent Senator Fraser Anning, started at Emma Miller Place and ended at Queensland Parliament on George Street, where community members gave speeches highlighting the plight of their family and friends back home.
“We appreciate the Australian government’s recognition of the plight of farmers in South Africa,” said Brisbane mum Roz Potgieter, who has been campaigning to bring her two adult children to the country.
“The farmers are targeted and being tortured and brutally murdered. Violent crime is rampant in South Africa and affects all of its communities, [but] the attacks on farmers are particularly brutal.
“The current farm murders are racially oriented and white farmers in particular are facing persecution. The current political environment and statements such as ‘Kill the Boer, kill the farmer’ from prominent government officials and parliamentarians have left many South Africans, and in particular the white minority, fearing for their lives.”
Ms Potgieter said she was calling for the scope of the offer to be widened. “We remain painfully aware that many of our family members who are not farmers remain exposed to unacceptable levels of violence,” she said. “We would therefore also like to discuss the current family member visa scheme and its design.”
Mr Laming praised Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s offer, which sparked a furious response from the South African government last week and was slammed as “racist” by many in Australia, including The Greens.
Earlier this week, the leader of South Africa’s third-largest political party, the radical Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters, described Australia as a “racist country” and said white farmers should leave.
“He could have ignored [the issue] completely,” Mr Laming told the rally. “He could have sat behind the PC crap that we see in federal departments who continue to say the murder rate here is no different to the murder rate down the road.
“This is about whether you face risk as a citizen in your own country, and [face] persecution and fear of death due to your race, ethnicity, religion or beliefs. We need a South African government that starts counting the toll. We need a South African government that doesn’t paper over reality.”
Organisers and attendees estimated the crowd size to be in the thousands. Queensland Police did not have a final attendance count but said they had planned for around 450 people to attend the rally.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr Dutton said he didn’t accept the criticism from the left. “No, because I think if you stick to the facts on these matters you’re on safe ground and that’s exactly what I’ve done,” he told Sunrise.
“The fact is that I haven’t said we should prioritise white over black, it’s an absurd proposition. I’ve said that we should look at people who are persecuted, see if they meet the criteria within our humanitarian and refugee program, and then if they do, then we shouldn’t discriminate on skin colour.”
Mr Dutton added that he “never said fast-tracking”. “There’s a lot of propaganda around here,” he said.
“People on the left don’t like me because of Manus and Nauru. I’ve got 8000 children out of detention, I’ve closed the Manus Island detention centre, I’ve got a mess to clean up — so they use these other issues to try and inject all of this propaganda into these discussions.
“If you look at what I’ve said, I’ve said we shouldn’t discriminate on any basis, that’s the program, the way in which we’ve always operated it, and we always will.”
Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie told Sky News he had heard anecdotal evidence “from people who’ve been directly affected by this” in his WA electorate of Canning. “It’s very disappointing that as soon as you raise this issue, people accuse you of being racist,” he said.
“We’ve always had a very generous humanitarian visa program, it’s run for the last four decades, we’ve been very responsive to international crises.
“We’ve taken Vietnamese people, Lebanese people during the civil war, Albanians, Bosnians, Serbians, Croats during the Yugoslav wars. More recently just in 2015 we took 12,000 Syrian refugees, mainly minorities, Christian and Yazidi, which I was very supportive of.
“So in that context we’ve always been very generous, and that’s why I’m advocating for the South African farmers because I believe they do meet the criteria for refugee status, and that is being discriminated against or persecuted in their country of origin.
“There was something like 400 attacks last year, something like 80-plus murders, and this year alone we’ve already had 15 murders.”
Conservative author and journalist Lauren Southern, who was recently detained and barred from entering the UK for distributing a poster saying “Allah is gay”, said Australia was taking the “right approach” to the issue.
“You have parties like the EFF run by Julius Malema, who have 10 per cent of the government, and they are saying, ‘We need to kill and shoot the Boer.’ Not only that, Malema has said he plans on not killing whites, just yet,” she told Sky News.
“So to anyone saying that this is an alt-right conspiracy, this is ridiculous pro-white nonsense, if this were being said about any other racial group in the world by a political leader, it would be on the front page of every single newspaper — Huffington Post, The Independent, New York Times, they would all be saying, ‘The rise of Hitler is upon us.’
“But because this is supposed to be the Rainbow Nation we ignore it. It seems Australia is taking the right approach [in] considering taking in South African refugees [but] the world seems to be giving you heat.”