10 December 2012

South Africa: Joemat-Pettersson's Handling of Farmworker Strikes a Violation of Executive Ethics

press release

The DA has today written to the Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela, to investigate Minister Joemat-Pettersson's conduct during the recent farmworker strikes in the Western Cape. The Minister willfully condoned violence and made irresponsible public promises. This kind of behaviour is unbecoming of a government minister.

First, the minister congratulated protestors on their "victory" in staging a series of unprotected strikes in a context of destruction of property and widespread reports of intimidation. She went on to say that they would go down in history as having changed agriculture forever. This constitutes a flagrant violation of executive ethics by implicitly encouraging violence as a means of settling labour disputes.

Second, the Minister told a meeting of protestors that "we will speak to the NPA and the Police Minister to ensure that all cases of intimidation and public violence are withdrawn". This sets a dangerous precedent and could lay the foundations for destabilisation across sectors and regions. It is also interesting to note that the Minister did nothing to prevent or condemn alliance partner Tony Ehrenreich's gleeful threats of an impending Marikana in the Western Cape.

Third, the Minister stepped well beyond her portfolio responsibility and promised strikers that by the 4th of December a new minimum wage would have been negotiated. She had no jurisdiction with which to make these inflammatory promises. Such a renegotiation would have been illegal in any event, as the minimum wage set in April this year, can only be changed in March 2013. The Minister acted inconsistently with the integrity of her office by creating heightened expectations with this false promise and disregarded the potential consequences that could have flowed from that.

The Minister's actions constitute a violation of the Executive Ethics Act of 1998. The Act provides for a code that governs the conduct of the members of the Cabinet. The subsequent code of 2000 stipulates that ministers must "act in good faith and in the best interest of good governance; and act in all respects in a manner that is consistent with the integrity of their office or the government." Ministers are also to "perform their duties and exercise their powers diligently and honestly" and "fulfill all the obligations imposed upon them by the Constitution and law."

Clearly, Minister Joemat-Pettersson has violated the general standards expected of a minister. As this is not exactly a first offense - the Public Protector recently found the minister guilty of violating the code for excessive expenditure on flights and hotel stays - we have good grounds for reiterating our call that the Minister be fired. I will be tabling a motion to this effect as soon as parliament reconvenes in the new year.

Annette Steyn, Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

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