June 3, 2014 / 4:18 PM / 3 years ago

South African farms minister accused of underpaying farm hand

JOHANNESBURG, June 3 (Reuters) - South Africa’s union movement and farming groups attacked new agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana on Tuesday after reports he was paying a labourer 800 rand ($75) a month, a third of the mininum farming wage, to tend cattle.

The City Press newspaper also said 21-year-old Vuyolwethu Ndabambi was working seven days a week for Zokwana, an ex-mining union leader and senior Communist Party member who became agriculture minister last week.

Working without a day off is another violation of South Africa’s labour laws.

“We call on Comrade Senzeni Zokwana and indeed all those who have employed workers, including domestic workers, to lead by example and pay their workers the minimum wages,” the powerful COSATU trade union federation said in a statement.

Opposition parties have targeted Zokwana and deputy farming minister Bheki Cele, an ex-police chief infamous for encouraging officers to “shoot to kill” criminals at the soccer World Cup in 2010, as examples of President Jacob Zuma appointing ministers for their loyalty rather than talent or expertise.

Zokwana did not answer his mobile phone or respond to a Reuters text message requesting comment.

City Press quoted him as saying: “I am paying that boy who works there, who is also a neighbour, 800 rand for looking after my cattle. He was previously unemployed and at least now he can put food on the table.”

Spokesmen for the agriculture and labour ministries were also unavailable for comment.

AfriForum, a group representing mainly white farmers, accused the ruling African National Congress of double standards for frequently accusing the farming sector of underpaying workers.

“The insinuation is made often and in public that violence in rural areas can be ascribed to racism because ‘white farmers’ underpay and abuse their workers on a grand scale,” AfriForum deputy chief executive Ernst Roets said.

“Senior ANC officials are guilty of the very offence of which the farmers are accused,” he added. ($1 = 10.6507 South African Rand) (Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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