KZN agri unions to ‘judge new ministers on the job’

2014-05-29 00:00

LOCAL agricultural unions have adopted a wait-and-see attitude with the new appointments in the Agriculture and Fisheries portfolio, but are united in their view that the new appointees cannot be worse than the previous minister.

President Jacob Zuma appointed former union leader Senzeni Zokwana as the new minister with former police commissioner Bheki Cele as his deputy.

Locally, Cyril Xaba was appointed as the new MEC for agriculture to replace Meshack Radebe.

The lack of experience in the agricultural sector for Zokwana and Cele left some observers wondering whether the administration was serious about agriculture and what the two men will bring to the sector that is being hammered by imports and land restitution.

Local agricultural unions, however, said the appointments were likely to be an improvement compared to the former minister’s less-than-stellar performance.

Dr Mandla Buthelezi, president of the National African Farmers’ Union (Nafu), said the two men will bring a firm hand and pull the industry away from potential collapse.

“This portfolio needs a strong hand and the two have shown in the past they are strong men; we hope they will actually make things happen in this portfolio”, he said.

He said Zokwana is a former unionist who knows the challenges and the needs of all the people that are still left behind in the economy, and Cele’s experience in security will be valuable in fighting farm attacks.

Buthelezi said the two men needed to make sure that land was used productively.

“We see that the Minister of Rural Development, Gugile Nkwithi, keeps finding land and giving it to the people, but that land is not being used productively, we are now facing a situation where as a country we are importing everything including meat … this shows that the land is not being used.”

President of KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (KwaNalu) Michael Black said they will reserve judgment on Cele. “We know that he has been controversial in the past, but we will judge him on the job … We hope that he [Zokwana] is better than the previous minister who did not seem to always deliver on expectation.”

He was more enthusiastic about Xaba’s appointment. “We welcome his appointment. We have had dealings with him [while he was the adviser to former premier Zweli Mkhize] and we have always found him to be a sound man. We hope he brings a shift to the department and a focus on commercial farming.”

Speaking to The Witness, Zokwane said he and Cele brought different expertise to the ministry that would be valuable. “Cele was involved in security and he knows a lot about that and we know there are issues around farm security. I was in the union so I bring a set of skills that will be important negotiating and taking the sector forward.”

He said agriculture in South Africa was struggling as a sector. “That we are importing more food than we produce is an indication of the problems.”

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