Union members storm agriculture minister's office in attempt to remove him from office

18 May 2018 - 13:00
By Aron Hyman
Minister of Agriculture Senzeni Zokwana. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo Minister of Agriculture Senzeni Zokwana. File photo.

Union members stormed the Pretoria office of agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana on Friday in an attempt to remove him.

Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) director-general Mike Mlengana said he received a call from Zokwana telling him members of the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union had breached several security points and were preventing him from leaving his Arcadia office.

Mlengana said he was on his way to the Nampo Harvest Day agricultural show in Bothaville‚ Free State‚ when Zokwana called.

“I immediately made a call to the head of HR to go and let me talk to the Nehawu guys. I asked them what’s going on‚ and they said they are demanding that the minister be removed‚ that the minister has to leave by the back door‚” he said.

Nehawu represents many Daff staff‚ and the union has been vocal in expressing its dissatisfaction with Zokwana. But it has also been accused of playing into a factional battle within the department‚ backing Mlengana against the minister.

Nehawu’s Daff branch chairman‚ Ivan Ramogale‚ and secretary‚ Timothy Mahamba‚ wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa last month complaining about alleged abuse of power by Zokwana.

They also pointed out media reports that Zokwana had allegedly been involved in bribing former president Jacob Zuma so that he would remain in his position throughout several infamous cabinet reshuffles.

Zokwana suspended Mlengana last year for misconduct immediately after a forensic report implicated four senior Daff officials in corruption and fraud relating to a R45-million abalone-processing tender.

When Mlengana returned to his post last month he was led into Agriculture Place by a procession of union members who were filmed directing insults at the minister.

Mlengana said he was surprised by Friday morning’s events.

“I’m calling an urgent meeting with Nehawu this afternoon or tomorrow to understand the issues. We have agreed that we will address all the issues via my office. And if they are big I will then escalate them to the minister or the relevant authorities‚” he said.

“But we need to have a form of discipline in the way we engage‚ and I thought we had all agreed on that. Now I am surprised to hear this morning what happened. I’m busy putting my hands on it because I think there must be consequences to prevent behaviour like this happening at work.

“We are not saying people cannot be dissatisfied but we are saying that there are better ways of sorting out issues. So I will be calling the structures of Nehawu this morning or tomorrow to understand how best do we honour what we have agreed on‚ because integrity is important.”

Zokwana’s phone was off on Friday morning and Nehawu did not respond to TimesLIVE queries.