Australia considers visas for white South African farmers

South Africa has dismissed allegations its white farmers are "persecuted" after an Australian minister said they needed help from a "civilised" country.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he was exploring giving South Africa's white farmers access to fast-track visas on humanitarian grounds.

The suggestion was made amid calls to transfer land ownership from white to black farmers in South Africa, and fears over the number of farm killings.

But South Africa says it is ridiculous.

Government spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya told the BBC there was no reason for any country in the world to suspect a section of the South African population was in danger from its democratically elected leaders.

"There's no need for anyone to be scared or to fear anything," he said. "The land redistribution programme will be done according to the law. We want to say to our friends across the world that there's no need to panic."

He concluded: "We remain a united nation here in South Africa - both black and white."

Mr Dutton had earlier told reporters in Australia South Africa's white farmers needed help "from a civilised country like ours".

"If you look at the footage and read the stories, you hear the accounts, it's a horrific circumstance they face," he said.

Mr Dutton added: "We want people who want to come here, abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard, not lead a life on welfare. And I think these people deserve special attention and we're certainly applying that special attention now."

In response, South Africa's foreign ministry said it regretted "the Australian government chose not to use the available diplomatic channels available for them to raise concerns or to seek clarification".

Mr Dutton's comments come nearly six months after Australia agreed to pay $70m (£39.5m) in compensation and damages to around 2,000 asylum seekers, who had alleged physical and psychological abuse at its detention centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

Australia did not admit liability in the case but rights groups have repeatedly criticised the country for its human rights violations on offshore detention centres.