Joemat-Pettersson grooves up agriculture

Wearing an African-beaded power suit, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson cut the figure of a minister who is firmly on the ball, with her eyes on the prize.

Since taking on the job in 2009, Joemat-Pettersson has set about trying to jazz up a portfolio that is by no means a glamorous one.

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, in conversation with the Mail & Guardian, says she will not be happy until each and every South African is food secure and has a balanced diet.
“We succeeded in making it sexy,” she purrs, while sipping on what looks like a cola tonic and lemonade during our interview at the Polo Lounge at the Westcliff in Johannesburg.

A ministry that involves mud and soil is not something you’d expect a woman who dons make-up and high-heels to thrive on—especially when their background is largely in education.

That being said, Joemat-Pettersson has busied herself in getting to grips with the challenges of a ministry that is often overlooked.

Critical importance
“I think I’ve worked hard and the only thing I enjoy about it is the fact that we’ve elevated agriculture to a level of critical importance in the country,” Joemat-Pettersson said.

To achieve this, the minister adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the farming industry, extending an olive branch to white commercial farmers who feared a Zimbabwe-style land grab on South African soil; commending adversaries on constructive agricultural plans and promising to beef up security on farms around the country.

Bumpy road
Her time in the agriculture portfolio has not been without its hullabaloos. Her decision to attend the funeral of slain white supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche was controversial, to say the least.

Her judgment was also brought into question when she approved the import of antelope from Zambia, when an aide’s fiancé stood to benefit from the deal.

She also has her share of political foes and detractors, including the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on agriculture, Deetleefs du Toit.

“She likes to makes promises, but there is no follow through. She doesn’t seem to have a plan and grip on her department,” Du Toit told the Mail & Guardian.

She has also come in severe criticism for her handling of the fisheries sector of her portfolio.
After making ground in the agriculture sector, not much can be said of her action in the seas.

“She performed poorly, very poorly,” Horst Kleinschmidt, a fisheries consultant who served as deputy director general of South Africa’s fisheries department between 2000 and 2005, told M&G. “She’s virtually unknown in this industry and quite dismissive. We only heard about her making a noise when she wanted people to attend an ANC fundraising dinner ahead of local government elections.”

Future plans
Joemat-Pettersson won’t talk too much about what the future holds for her, or if she’ll accept another term in Cabinet if it was offered, replying with the clichéd ANC phrase: “It’s not for me to decide.”

She is however pretty candid about what her family wants.

“My children are certainly horrified that they see me in overalls and boots planting trees on TV. They want to see me in the garden at home,” she says.

The future of her department and the agricultural sector in South Africa as a whole is a different story though, with her hopes of a people working towards a better tomorrow blatantly clear.

“If an old person plants a tree on arbour day even if they know they won’t be able to sit under the shade, then I’ll be happy,” she noted.

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend. Read more from Nickolaus Bauer

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