Massive golden handshake likely for Langa Zita

The recently suspended director-general (DG) of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Langa Zita, could receive a multimillion rand golden handshake.

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According to DA MP and party spokesperson for agriculture, Annette Steyn, this so-called handshake will allegedly comprise nine months’ full salary and 30% of each month’s salary until the end of his contract – which was set to expire in 2014. “Our calculations indicate that the final amount could be as high as R2,5 million, an extraordinary amount of public money to hand out to an undeserving candidate,” said Steyn.

Steyn said Zita is being investigated for misconduct and could face a disciplinary hearing, but minister of agriculture Tina Joemat-Pettersson has refused to reveal details about Zita’s suspension and the hearing. “A reply to a DA parliamentary question only said that he was suspended for ‘administrative reasons’. We believe the public have the right to know why he was suspended and what steps are being taken to resolve whatever the issue is that led to his suspension,” said Steyn.

In progress
When Farmer’s Weekly asked DAFF spokesperson Palesa Mokomele about the reasons for Zita’s suspension, she also would only say it was due to “an administrative matter”. Following a parliamentary question from DA MP Pieter van Dalen about whether or not a disciplinary hearing had been convened and, if so, what the charges are, and when the hearing will take place, Joemat-Pettersson responded by simply saying the matter is “a work in progress”.

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No hearing
Wouter Wessels, spokesperson for DAFF deputy minister Pieter Mulder, said he had no information about the matter. “It was the minister’s decision to appoint Zita and it was her decision to suspend him, the deputy minister had nothing to do with it,” he said. If no charges of misconduct are laid against Zita there will be no disciplinary hearing, meaning Zita’s contract was ended without ‘proper cause’, said Wessels. He will then have to be paid out the full value of his three-year contract with DAFF.

Zita’s suspension followed months of media speculation about the breakdown of the relationship between Joemat-Pettersson and the DG, who was also unpopular among farmers. During his time at DAFF Zita failed to instil much confidence in his ability to make a meaningful contribution to the sector. Shortly after his suspension became public, Agri SA said Zita should never have been appointed in the first place, adding that the former DG was ignorant of the problems faced by commercial agriculture.

Salam Abram, ANC MP and member of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the suspension was a welcome move because it was clear that Zita wasn’t very “agriculture-orientated”. He said Zita was totally indifferent to mainstream agricultural activities and as a result “precious little happened on his watch”. Portfolio committee members have also accused Joemat-Pettersson of mismanaging the department.

“For three years, the minister has systematically destroyed her department, perpetually shifting the blame for its failures
to advance the industries it has a mandate to support. Clearly, she is unfit to hold public office,” said Steyn.