Cosatu outraged at minister pay claims

Johannesburg - Union movement Cosatu and farming groups attacked new agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana after reports he was paying a labourer R800 a month, a third of the mininum farming wage, to tend cattle.

City Press reported on Monday that 21-year-old Vuyolwethu Ndabambi was working seven days a week for Zokwana, an ex-mining union leader and senior Communist Party member who became agriculture minister last week.

Working without a day off is another violation of South Africa's labour laws.

Cosatu expressed outrage at the claims, adding that it will call for a detailed investigation into the allegations and urgent compliance by the minister to the farm wage determination.

"Our leaders must serve as an example of compliance and decent wages and conditions of employment in their business dealings.
"Cosatu will be following this matter closely to ensure compliance of workers' rights," the union federation said in a statement.

Opposition parties have targeted Zokwana and deputy farming minister Bheki Cele, an ex-police chief infamous for encouraging officers to "shoot to kill" criminals at the soccer World Cup in 2010, as examples of President Jacob Zuma appointing ministers for their loyalty rather than talent or expertise.

Zokwana did not answer his mobile phone or respond to a Reuters text message requesting comment.

City Press quoted him as saying: "I am paying that boy who works there, who is also a neighbour, R800 for looking after my cattle. He was previously unemployed and at least now he can put food on the table."

Spokesperson for the agriculture and labour ministries were also unavailable for comment.

AfriForum, a group representing mainly white farmers, accused the ruling African National Congress of double standards for frequently accusing the farming sector of underpaying workers.

"The insinuation is made often and in public that violence in rural areas can be ascribed to racism because 'white farmers' underpay and abuse their workers on a grand scale," AfriForum deputy chief executive Ernst Roets said.

"Senior ANC officials are guilty of the very offence of which the farmers are accused," he added.

Meanwhile, general secretary of the SA Communist Party Blade Nzimande defended Zokwana, saying "comrade Zokwana is a mine worker who is not paid an executives salary”.

“It’s only now that he has become a minister.”

Nzimande said Zokwana was happy with his new position as it would afford him the opportunity to pay the cattle herder more.

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