Minister Senzeni Zokwana’s herder gets R26 a day

2014-06-01 16:39
(Lubabalo Ngcukana, City Press)

(Lubabalo Ngcukana, City Press)

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Johannesburg - New agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister Senzeni Zokwana pays his young cattle herder R800 a month, City Press reports.

Vuyolwethu Ndabambi (21) earns about R26 a day and works every day of the week.

The photo below is of the shack in which his former cattle herder, an older man villagers respectfully called Ntate, lived in until November last year.

The iron structure stands on a plot of land which an Eastern Cape village chief has accused Senzeni Zokwana of occupying illegally.

The land is now the subject of a criminal case with Zokwana due to appear in the Willowvale Magistrates’ Court on 26 June.

Zokwana confirmed he was using the land - about the size of two soccer fields - on the outskirts of Willowvale’s Fort Malan village, also known as Ntshatshongo village.

He said he was only keeping his cattle there "for now" and insisted that he had followed the proper procedure to obtain the land.

When City Press visited the plot this week, an iron shack in which the herder slept, a kraal and a second shack were seen on the site. The dilapidated structure was furnished with an old bed.

Zokwana confirmed that his former herder, a man from Lesotho, occupied the shack. He said the man had a work permit and was in the country legally.

Zokwana is a member of the SA Communist Party’s central committee and is a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

He said it was these living conditions that led to him "parting ways" with the worker because he could not allow him to live like that.

"I had to let him go because I could not build a proper structure at the plot due to this dispute with the village chief.

"Although the shack is properly built, it is very cold in winter and I could not allow a person to stay there. I opted for a neighbour who lives in the village and who will not depend on me for accommodation," Zokwana said.

'He can put food on the table'

Ndabambi was hired in November to replace the former herder and said he was grateful to have the job of taking care of the minister's 19 cattle.

"I am happy to be working here because I was previously unemployed. At least now I get R800 a month to look after the cattle," he said.

Zokwana said: "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."

Ndabambi said Zokwana often visited the village to check on his cattle. He said he had promised to raise his salary to R1400 monthly at the end of last month.

Ndabambi’s duties entail him working from Monday to Sunday. In summer, he has to guard the cattle between 10:00 and 16:00 to prevent them from entering nearby mealie fields. "But in winter I just take them to the grazing fields and collect them in the afternoon," he said.

He said he never heard Zokwana's former employee "complain about his living conditions or anything like that - maybe he was desperate, just like most of us".

The issue of farm workers' pay is a contentious issue around which violent strikes erupted in the Western Cape in 2012. The minimum wage for farm employees is R104 a day for those who work nine hours a day.

The NUM has led the charge against mining companies, particularly on the platinum belt, where they say workers live in appalling conditions.

Last May, Business Day reported that Zokwana earned up to R1.2m a year.

Bribing the headman

Meanwhile, village chief and medical doctor Dr Manduleli Bikitsha said Zokwana had not followed proper procedure in acquiring the land. He claimed Zokwana had bribed the headman with brandy. Zokwana admitted giving the brandy but denied that it was a bribe.

Bikitsha, who laid a charge of illegal land occupation against Zokwana in December last year, said Zokwana should have approached a sub-headman with his request for land, with a reference letter from the village chief where he now lives.

The request would then have been taken to the headman, who would have presented it to the chief and traditional council.

A decision would then have been made with the community. If the request was successful, agriculture department officials would have demarcated the land.

"But Zokwana did not follow that process. He simply gave [a headman] brandy and thought that was enough," said Bikitsha. "We wrote to him several times for him to come to the great place and to explain himself, but he has not responded."

Zokwana said Bikitsha's allegations were "a lie".

"I followed all the due processes for me to occupy that land. The village people, the community, gave me the land. A person of my stature knows protocol in these situations and I followed it to the letter," he said.

Zokwana said giving away brandy was the norm in rural areas when a person wanted to acquire land.

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