Findings of Zita investigation must be made public

Two of South Africa’s largest farmers’ unions are calling for a capable director-general (DG) of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to replace the recently suspended Langa Zita.

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Meanwhile, DAFF continues to keep the public in the dark as to the reasons behind Zita’s sudden suspension from his job on full pay. But Agri SA said the suspension came as no surprise. The union was scathing of Zita’s performance as director-general. Agri SA president Johannes Möller said, “Cadre deployment not only holds unacceptable risks for service delivery at all government levels, it is also unfair to individuals such as Zita who should not have been appointed in the post.’’ Agri SA’s poor relationship with Zita – and DAFF – was reportedly exacerbated by what Agri SA described as “controversial statements” made by Zita over the past year.

Zita allegedly stated, among others, that organised agriculture had not made him aware of how high electricity costs were hampering commercial farming’s profitability – a statement that Agri SA described as “shocking” in its untruthfulness. Agri SA and TAU SA agreed Zita did not have the management experience or the understanding of the intricacies of the country’s agricultural sector’s needs to be an effective agriculture DG.

“We need a DG who understands agriculture, who knows that it is an economic process that is influenced by biological realities that can’t be changed by a political viewpoint that doesn’t have any sustainability,” said TAU SA’s general manager, Bennie van Zyl.

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The aim, Van Zyl continued, “should be to give farmers the support they need to utilise the available land in the country in an optimal way to produce food for all the inhabitants of South Africa. “We need a DG who strives for food security,” he said.
Attempts by Farmer’s Weekly to find out the reasons behind the suspension proved fruitless.

DAFF spokesperson, Palesa Mokomele said: “We unfortunately can’t give any detailed reasons for Mr Zita’s suspension, except to reiterate that he’s been placed on precautionary suspension pending an investigation into allegations against him.
“There is a process to follow, and this dictates that an investigation has to take place and a disciplinary action will follow.
“This will happen within 60 days.”

Prof Bernard Bekink, an expert on constitutional and public law with the University of Pretoria, said DAFF doesn’t have to reveal the reasons for Zita’s suspension if the investigation into the allegations against him is at a sensitive stage. But once the investigation is complete, it is obliged to make the results of the investigation public if the results are related to something that occurred in Zita’s official capacity, explained Bekink.

“Please note, however,” he said, “the reasons can only be demanded if needed for the exercise or protection of rights and if permitted by applicable national legislation.”