The streets of Pretoria were coloured in black earlier this week when about 3 500 disgruntled assistant agricultural practitioners (AAPs) marched in protest to the Union Buildings. This is after the department of agriculture announced that it would not extend the contracts of almost 5 000 AAPs.
The protest, in collaboration with the South African Agricultural Graduates Organisation (Sagaa), saw the AAPs calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa and national agricultural minister Thoko Didiza to reinstate them.
The group of agri workers are asking the government to reinstate them with immediate effect, and the memorandum of requests was handed to department officials Bonga Mosomi and Alicia Stevens, assigned by Didiza and director general Ramasodi Mooketsa.
Opportunities cut short
Thapelo Qomiane, the spokesperson for Sagaa, said the group of agri workers were disappointed by the lack of care and display of arrogance by Didiza’s department.
“Every year, almost 5 000 young people graduate from colleges of agriculture and institutions that offer agriculture but the department doesn’t create opportunities for such graduates,” he said.
“This time graduates thought they’ll at least get an opportunity to be exposed to work experience for three years and later be converted to permanent, but such an opportunity was cut very short.”
‘We want our jobs back’
The AAPs were contracted in January this year for three months. The contract was then extended for a further three months with the promise that would be extended by nine months. Then, they were told that their contracts would be terminated, Qomiane said.
Qomiane added that AAPs had hoped that the minister would extend their contract since it was announced by the president that the programme would run for three years.
“The AAP programme was also vetted by the then finance minister, Tito Mboweni, [who said] that the department should employ more agricultural extension officers to ease the pressure that the current extension officers feel,” he explained.
The recruitment process
President of Saaga Malose Mokgotho said AAPs must be given permanent jobs and that the advertised posts, especially the entry-level ones, should be reserved for priority AAPs.
Only where there is no skill or qualification to match the post, should the department recruit outside, he said.
“We are already available to start work immediately. Even though some of us had to vacate the rented premises as we are currently unemployed, it is a painful situation as we must now apply for social grants, yet again,” Mokgotho said.
“There would be no need for the advertisement of the AAP posts and thus no interviews as we have already gone through rigorous selection and interview processes, some more than once,” he added.
‘No land available’
Meanwhile, AAP and agricultural economics master’s student Kedumeitse Modisaotsile from Bloemhof, Johannesburg, told Food For Mzansi that the AAP programme helped pay for her studies.
“It’s important that they should reinstate us because now the minister is saying something else that we should open businesses. I’m from Bloemhof and there is no land,” she said.
“Where am I going to start an enterprise? Obviously, I know agriculture, so what will I do? I am from a township, where will I keep goats? Apparently we are supposed to hand in profiles and business plans, so where should I begin because there is no land where I am from.”
Government drops the ball
Modisaotsile worked in the AAP Land Development Support Division in Vryburg, approving funding schemes for farms. She said the government has not been very supportive from the very beginning of the programme, adding that they have not been treated well.
“It’s been a mess. The communication was bad. We had to wait and last minute they sent us a letter telling us the contract had been reinstated, and then suddenly it had not. It would have been better if they told us about it a month before. Even with our salaries we had to wait for ages and we are also breadwinners,” she said.
Food For Mzansi reached out to Didiza’s office and spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo said he was aware of the protest and Mooketsa attended to them.
Although he has not seen the memorandum of requests, Ngcobo added that he knows the minister met with the AAPs last week to explain the reason behind the termination of their contracts.
“Due to financial constraints in the compensation of employees budget no contracts will be extended and APP’s have been informed of this decision, and also been informed that they will be assisted to start their own enterprises through the department of small business. Agriculture will assist with land parcels for those who want to do farming,” he said.
“These contracts of APP’s were for a stipulated period and there was no commitment from the department for full-time employment. This programme was aimed at giving APP’s experience of which in most cases companies require,” Ngcobo said.
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