File photo: Reuters

The debate on the agriculture, forestry and fisheries budget vote turned nasty between Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and opposition speakers yesterday, as the latter claimed that her interventions in the industries were damaging businesses, jobs and long-term government plans.

Joemat-Pettersson hit back at her detractors, saying they were blind to the remarkable successes of the department. Figures provided by Statistics SA showed a leap in jobs in agriculture in the past year – 25 000.

This was the first rise in agriculture jobs since 1970. There were now 630 000 workers employed in the industry.

The minister has come under fire from DA fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen for alleged bias towards the Sekunjalo Consortium over the aborted awarding of the R800 million marine resource patrol contract, a function that the minister was forced to temporarily place in the hands of the SA navy.

Yesterday she turned her guns on Van Dalen, accusing him of “gossip and information peddling” and – under parliamentary privilege – accused him once of “allegedly” shooting at black children in Gugulethu and then “you laughed at them”. Van Dalen has repeatedly denied any involvement in the incident.

After Joemat-Pettersson was forced to withdraw the remark, she urged MPs to “Google” the story.

The minister attributed the job creation success to the use of traditional land for commercial purposes and empowerment projects that “were starting to bear significant fruit”.

Pointing to the national strategy to wean South Africa from traditional markets in Europe and the Americas towards emerging markets, the minister said agriculture had been cushioned from the fallout in the EU through redirecting exports to Mexico, India and China.

Langa Zita, the department’s director-general, said agricultural exports to China were up from 1 percent to 3 percent of the R48 billion total and the United Arab Emirates by a similar percentage. Zimbabwe had increased from 2 percent to 8 percent and Mexico from zero to 5 percent.

These figures, argued the minister, painted a very different picture to the negative casting of agriculture by Van Dalen and Pieter Groenewald, the Freedom Front Plus MP, whose leader is Pieter Mulder, the department’s deputy minister.

The minister said Groenewald – who called her “a drama queen” rather than the “rain queen” she promised farmers in 2009 – did not talk to his leader about farming matters.

She charged: “You speak as if your party is not part of this ministry. The deputy minister (Mulder) is part of this government… through your own interpretation your own party is failing in government.”

Groenewald said the minister said there had to be food security “but what has she done to ensure security of farm property and (personal) security?”

Groenewald said the minister’s department was “imploding”. A typical blunder was the one she made in fisheries over the Smit Amandla Marine contract, he said.

She had appointed a director-general “with no knowledge in agriculture”. Zita, who had an honours degree in politics, was a political cadre deployment.

Van Dalen said the minister should be fired.