08/10/2010 Tina Joemat Pettersson Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries during the AgriSA congress, held at Mulderdrift Roodepoort. Photo: Leon Nicholas

 Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has been accused of waging a war against staff in her ministry, allegedly hiring, firing and suspending several employees.

Staff claim the minister has not had any executive meetings since May, that she keeps her diary a secret, and that she has become “paranoid”, believing that everyone in her department is against her.

This week her special adviser Rams Mabote, who has been working for her since 2010, resigned. He is approaching the Public Service Bargaining Council to sue the minister for constructive dismissal.

But Joemat-Pettersson, speaking to The Sunday Independent on Saturday, refused to comment on Mabote’s resignation, saying she had no time to respond to “misinformation” and a “campaign to discredit” her.

Sources in the ministry alleged that Joemat-Pettersson had refused to speak to her spin-doctor for five weeks, ignoring his phone calls and e-mails, and had stopped him from travelling with her on a business trip to Costa Rica, which Mabote had organised.

It is also claimed that she assigned his responsibilities to to another official in the ministry, sending out an internal e-mail announcing the decision without informing Mabote.

The Sunday Independent understands that Mabote wrote several letters to the minister complaining about his treatment and warning her that he would approach the CCMA over a possible case of constructive dismissal.

Mabote would not comment on the allegations but confirmed his resignation. “I feel very aggrieved about how Tina has dealt with me after two years where I not only served her diligently and loyally but where in other instances I took bullets for her… It also pains me that I had to suspend my business operations to help with her image.”

The Sunday Independent understands that Mabote is not the first employee to fall out with Joemat-Pettersson.

Several employees in the ministry, who spoke to The Sunday Independent on condition of anony- mity, alleged that the minister was a bully who changed staff members on a whim.

A source in the department said Joemat-Pettersson’s office was “in disarray” and that she had not had a meeting with the executive team since the end of May.

“Her diary, which was always handled by her chief of staff, personal assistant and two special advisers, is now a secret and only managed by the PA,” said the staff member.

“She thinks everyone is against her and has become really paranoid,” said another employee, who also asked not to be named.

In the past six months, director-general Langa Zita and Fisheries deputy director-general Sue Middleton have been suspended, while four contract employees have been relieved of their duties.

Zita is still on suspension. The department has refused to give reasons for Zita’s suspension. Joemat-Pettersson’s spokeswoman said it was “a precautionary suspension”.

Sources in the department said Zita and the department were negotiating a settlement to pay him out for the remainder of his five-year contract. Zita would not comment.

Middleton’s suspension was lifted because of an administrative bungle. She was suspended on May 4 for allegedly authorising a last- minute deal to help the navy manage the government premier fisheries research vessel.

Sources in the ministry said Middleton had not been charged within 60 days, as required by the Senior Management Service handbook, and had to return to work.

Middleton did not respond to questions sent to her.

Joemat-Pettersson told The Sunday Independent that Middleton had had a disciplinary hearing where she had been found guilty of financial misconduct and given a final warning.

Last month Bonge Mthembu was allegedly admitted to the Muelmed Medi-Clinic in Pretoria for a stress-related illness after she was removed as an admin secretary in Cape Town.

Mthembu had to forfeit the R5 000 “role-playing” allowance and had to leave her children in Cape Town where they are at school after her removal. She has been absorbed into the department but is on sick leave and has gone home to KwaZulu-Natal.

After Mthembu’s removal, Olga MacZali, the minister’s former bodyguard in Cape Town, was allegedly promoted to the position of admin secretary.

In the past month, three other employees – David Moeketsi, Jackie Smit and Prince Mtsweni – were forced to return to the department after being seconded to the ministry.

Moeketsi and Smit were responsible for ministerial events and Mtsweni for finance. All three were told they were no longer needed.

Neither Smit nor Mtsweni would comment. Moeketsi could not be reached for comment.

Six months ago Kwena Komape, the attache to Rome, was removed from her position with immediate effect even though her children were still at school in Rome. She has since been absorbed into the department in Pretoria without a portfolio.

“She is a single mother. Her children were schooling in Rome at the time. The school terms are different there. Her pleas to allow her children to finish the school term went unheard. It was a nightmare for her,” said the department source.

Komape could not be reached for comment.

In 2010, the minister accused Dr Botlhe Modisane, Dr Kgabi Mogajane and Dr Mpho Maja – vets in the Agriculture Ministry – of colluding with the Red Meat Society to embarrass her. The society had opposed the import of sable antelope meat from Zambia which did not have foot and mouth disease-free status.

“They were reduced to admin clerks in the department,” said a source in the department, “and in March this year we had a foot and mouth disease outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal,” the source added.

Maja would not comment, referring queries to departmental spokesman Selby Bokaba.

Modisane and Mogajane did not answer their cellphones.

Joemat-Pettersson’s former adviser Basetsana Thokoane has also been axed.

Former chief of staff Bafedile Bopape was placed on special leave for six months and later moved to a different department. Thokoane, who was allegedly fired at a high-level executive meeting, had threatened to go to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, but was allegedly paid out.

Thokoane would not comment, saying she did not talk about her business in the media.

Sunday Independent