Agriculture ministry frozen by infighting

Relations between Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and her director general, Langa Zitha, have hit a new low, the Mail & Guardian has learned.

Officials in the department said Joemat-Pettersson blamed Zitha for a raft of blunders that have hit the department recently and now wants to fire him.

She blames Zitha for the failure to approve the R420-million tender for the provision of tractors to black emerging farmers as part of President Jacob Zuma’s Masibambisane rural-development programme.

At least 350 tractors are yet to be given to emerging black farmers in seven provinces.

Joemat-Petterson first advertised the tender in May last year, but has since cancelled and re-advertised it more than three times, apparently due to infighting between her and Zitha.

The Sowetan reported last week that Joemat-Pettersson had instructed Zitha to implement the president’s project, but Zitha is believed to have raised questions about the directive.

Both Joemat-Pettersson and Zitha have denied that they are at loggerheads, in spite of evidence to the contrary, including the minister’s recent refusal to sign Zitha’s performance contract.

Department spokesperson Selby Bokaba said: “It is evident that there is a concerted campaign driven through the media, to drive a wedge between the ministry and the department, particularly between the minister and the director general. The department is functioning very well under the stewardship of the DG.”

But a department official insisted that the minister had been engaged in a battle with Zitha over the filling of senior management positions in the department and its subsidiaries or state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

“There has been a serious delay in the appointment of DDGs [deputy directors general] in the department because these guys are fighting over candidates. The DG has his own and the minister has her own,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The department is in disarray. Every senior position is vacant and people are acting. The situation is the same in the department’s SOEs, like the Agricultural Research Council, Onderstepoort Biological Products, Ncera Centre and the Perishable Products: Exports Control Board.”

Zitha, a staunch member of the South African Communist Party and the ANC, was appointed departmental director general in September last year, a few months after he joined the department as a political adviser in 2009. Fifteen months later Joemat-Pettersson has refused to sign Zitha’s performance contract and is said to have referred the matter to her lawyers in the department for advice.

Zitha had a three-year contract, including a 12-month probation period. He completed a year’s service at the end of September, but the minister has been extending his probation on a month-to-month basis.

Commenting on the probation saga, Bokaba said: “The DG was supposed to have submitted his performance agreement three months after assuming duty, but due to a technical glitch there was a delay in doing so. Once he has submitted it, a process will get under way to confirm his appointment. It is not true that the matter has been referred to the lawyers. The matter is being dealt with. The minister has no intention of firing the DG. She is not interested in rocking the boat. The DG will be confirmed in his post and will see out the remainder of his contract.”

Approached for comment, Zitha denied allegations of a rift between him and the minister.

He defended his suitability and qualifications for the job. “There is nothing untoward between me and the minister,” said Zitha.

“Let people say what they want to say, I’m qualified for the job. You don’t have to have a PhD to be director general. I have a master’s degree in public administration. I was interviewed and offered the job. I went through all the competency tests and was informed by the department that my candidature was approved.”

Charles Molele
Guest Author
Advertisting

Mabuza’s ‘distant relative’ scored big

Eskom’s woes are often because of boiler problems at its power plants. R50-billion has been set aside to fix them, but some of the contracts are going to questionable entities

ANC faction gunning for Gordhan

The ambush will take place at an NEC meeting about Eskom. But the real target is Cyril Ramaphosa

What the law could clarify this year

Lawfare: Major developments are on the cards where law and politics meet, including the first amendment to South Africa’s Bill of Rights

The secret ‘Warmonger’ at the SSA

A listening device acquired by the agency is at the centre of an alleged R600-million fraud operation
Advertising

Press Releases

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Is your tertiary institution is accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Is your tertiary institution accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

VUT chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, dies

The university conferred the degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa on Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi for his outstanding leadership contributions to maths and science education development.

Innovate4AMR now in second year

SA's Team pill-Alert aims to tackle antimicrobial resistance by implementing their strategic intervention that ensures patients comply with treatment.

Medical students present solution in Geneva

Kapil Narain and Mohamed Hoosen Suleman were selected to present their strategic intervention to tackle antimicrobial resistance to an international panel of experts.