South Africa is among a growing number of countries taking action against President Donald Trump's remarks last week that Haiti, El Salvador and African nations are "shithole countries" whose inhabitants are not desirable for US immigration.
South Africa's government called for a meeting Monday with acting US Ambassador Jessye Lapenn in Pretoria as part of a diplomatic protest of Trump's "disturbing" comments, the Department of International Relations said on Sunday.
Although officials acknowledged Trump's denial of the exact language used, they said the president's denial was "categorical, referring only to Haiti and not addressing the entirety of the statement attributed to him".
A Trump tweet on Friday appeared to deny using the term "shithole" to refer to those countries but acknowledged using "tough" language during the negotiations over immigration legislation. Few Republicans present during the meeting condemned his remarks, though Senate minority whip Richard Durbin, the lone Democrat present, said that the president's denial was false and that Trump "said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist".
Trump blamed Democrats on Sunday for poisoning chances for a deal between key GOP and Democratic lawmakers in deciding the fate of the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the United States illegally. The president said he "is not a racist" and called himself "the least racist person".
South African officials said they hope Lapenn can explain Trump's statement, and why African countries, along with Haiti and El Salvador, "constitute 'shitholes' from where migrants into the United States are undesirable".
"Relations between South Africa and the United States, and between the rest of Africa and the United States, must be based on mutual respect and understanding," officials said.
US Embassy spokeswoman Cindy Harvey told the Johannesburg-based news site Daily Maverick that Lapenn would visit the Department of International Relations and Cooperation Monday. Lapenn has been serving as acting ambassador since Patrick Gaspard, who had been appointed by President Barack Obama, left last year.
"We agree to the importance of strong relations between South Africa and the United States that are based on mutual respect and understanding," Harvey told the news site. "We look forward to continuing to move forward in this relationship and remain focused on accomplishing our shared goals."
US diplomats in Haiti and other countries have been called to host government offices to hear complaints about the president's comments.
"One of the great things about being president is that you can say whatever you want," Under Secretary of State Steven Goldstein said in an interview. "We have advised our ambassadors to indicate that our commitment to those countries remains strong."
Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, has condemned Trump's remarks and has asked for an explanation from US officials. The president during the Oval Office meeting singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that Haitian immigrants must be left out of any deal, according to people briefed on the meeting.
"Why do we need more Haitians?" Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. "Take them out."
Altidor said the Haitian Embassy in Washington has been flooded with emails from Americans apologising for Trump's remark, which he found encouraging.
"In the spirit of the people of Haiti we feel in the statements, if they were made, the president was either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people," he said.
Ebba Kalondo, a spokesperson for the African Union, said last week that Trump's comments referring to migrants from African countries and others were alarming.
"Considering the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the US during the Atlantic slave trade, this flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice," she said.
In Botswana, officials summoned the US ambassador "to clarify whether Botswana is regarded as a 'shithole' country" and called his comments racist. In Senegal, President Macky Sall said he was "shocked" by the remarks, and said people in Africa deserve the "respect and consideration of all". In Nairobi, a communications specialist, Moses Osani, said it is "derogatory and sad to belong to countries that have been labelled 'shithole' countries".
El Salvador's foreign minister, Hugo Martinez, said last week that he is seeking an official response from US authorities.
"It's always been a foreign policy priority of our government to fight for the respect and dignity of our countrymen independent of their immigration status," he said. "Our countrymen are hard-working people, who are always contributing to the countries where they're living and, of course, also in our country."