Department of Agriculture renders 5,000 agricultural assistant practitioners jobless, some not paid July salaries

Minister Thoko Didiza’s has retrenched 5,000 employees. File picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

Minister Thoko Didiza’s has retrenched 5,000 employees. File picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

Published Aug 15, 2023


About 5,000 agricultural assistant practitioners (AAPs) who were employed by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development have been rendered jobless, some penniless, after they were allegedly promised that their jobs were safe.

The AAPs were roped in by the department in January this year to bolster the agricultural sector's extension services across the country.

According to information sourced by IOL from sources within the department, they were first given three-month contracts in January.

Some of the internal communication regarding the APPs. Picture: Supplied

The message that gave hope that the APPs will be retained. Picture: Supplied

When the first contract expired, they were further granted another three-month extension, and they were promised that after that they would get another extension of nine months.

That undertaking is contained in an email circulated among senior staff members after a meeting that was chaired by Bonga Msomi, the chief director for National Extension Support Services.

Although the communication was meant for senior staff members, it eventually made its way to the AAPs, who interpreted it as meaning that their jobs were safe.

Further causing headaches for the retrenched AAPs is that some of them were still furthering their studies and were told that they would be eliminated from the programme because they had to make spaces for those who are unemployed and not working.

Some of them then decided to pause their studies in order to remain in the programme since it was going to be extended and give them an income.

The termination notice. Picture: Supplied

The 5,000 AAPs nationwide have since been retrenched, with the department citing budget constraints as the reason behind the devastating move.

"The Department at this stage cannot sustain this additional costs (sic) due to budget cuts on the Compensation of Employees (COE).

"However, the Department will continue to explore finding a solution for the practitioners. It is regrettable that the Department has to inform the AAPs of the termination of the employment contracts as at end of July 31, 2023," Msomi wrote in his letter.

Some of the retrenched APPs told IOL that they are walking home empty-handed after the department failed to pay them their salaries for July.

"We still haven't received our July salary. Can you please help us expose this injustice done by Minister (Thoko) Didiza and the DG," a dejected former employee told IOL.

The department denied that it promised the retrenched employees contract extensions, but admitted that some of them have not been paid for July.

It added that the non-payment issue is being addressed.

"The approved extensions were for three months (April–June 2023) and one further month (July 2023).

"All these extensions were accompanied by contracts from the Department to the AAPs.

"AAPs signed these contracts with the stipulated contractual period. The Department cannot offer any extensions due to budgetary constraints on Compensation of Employees," the department said.

The department said it would pay the outstanding salaries by August 20.

"After the contract period ends, the system automatically removes them. Thus, they must sign acceptance letters and the new contracts before they can be reloaded into the system.

"Therefore, all AAPs who provided services in July will be paid their salaries. Their salaries should be paid by August 20," it said.

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