THE Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) is set to pay former employee Rita Mbatha US$47 850 inclusive of interest after the High Court this week granted an application for registration of Supreme Court order under SC 119/19, after the courts ruled she was unfairly dismissed when she reported her former boss for sexual harassment.
In 2021, the High Court also awarded Mbatha US$180 000 after finding that her former boss Farai Zizhou, then the CZI chief executive, sexually harassed her between 2002 and 2003.
The NewsHawks understands Zizhou did not have the money to settle and had to settle using a house in Hatfield. The house was however worth more than what the High Court ordered Zizhou to pay, resulting in negotiations between the two parties. Mbatha then paid US$70 000 top-up to take full ownership of the house.
The CZI which fired Mbatha at Zizhou’s instigation in 2003 was on Tuesday ordered to pay after unsuccessfully contesting the registration of the judgment.
Justice Gladys Mhuri awarded the application for the registration of an award in terms section 92B of the Labour Act [Chapter 28:01].
The application was pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court under SC 119/19 handed down on 25 November 2019.
The order read as follows: “The appeal be and is hereby allowed with no order as to costs. The judgment of the Labour Court in LC/H/APP/336/2014 be and is hereby set aside and substituted with the following: The application for qualification of damages partially succeeds and accordingly the Respondent shall pay to the applicant the following within 30 days of this Court’s Order.
(a) Damages for unfair dismissal at the salary rate of ZWL11 57 037.00 (1400) from 1 June 2003 to 31 May 2005 = US$36 600. (b) Cash in lieu of notice = US$4 200. (c) Cash in lieu of leave days = US$361-30. Total = US$41 161-30 (d) interest on the total sum in a- c at the prescribed rate from the date of the court order to the date of payment in full.”
After considering interest, Justice Mhuri ruled that the “respondent be and is hereby ordered to pay applicant the sum of US$47 850-01 inclusive of interest calculated at the prescribed rate.”
The CZI was ordered to bear the costs of the application.
In 2021, the High Court’s Justice Mafusire ordered Zizhou to pay damages after a protracted battle.
“The plaintiff says the wheels of justice have turned ever so slowly for her. There can be no denying that. She has been to this court. She has been to arbitration. She has been to the Supreme Court. She is back in this court. She strives for closure,” noted the judge.
“Any lesser mortal would probably have given up. Plainly, the plaintiff is no lesser mortal. Her tenacity and fighting spirit have moved mountains. She is still fighting.”
Mbatha, who was Zizhou’s personal assistant, was claiming US$500 000.
Mafusire noted the claims as follows: “The sexual harassment was over some nine months. It started when she was still on probation. She got employed by the second defendant in September 2002. She got fired in July 2003. It was an unfair dismissal. The first defendant engineered it all. He schemed it. She had reported him for the sexual harassment. He took revenge.”
The sexual harassment involved inappropriate touching; unwelcome offensive jokes; invitation by innuendo to an inappropriate sexual relationship; receiving offensive telephone messages; receiving pornography on the computer; and an attempt to kiss by force, causing an injury on the thigh in the process of resisting.
Several emails from Zizhou to Mbatha were placed on record, including one with a deliberately misleading subject, “Call from Mr Miller (Superior Holdings)”.
“Rita, I have used the above caption just in case. Please delete completely immediately after reading. Look at the time I am sending this note — just to show you I could not sleep before writing this note to you. Rita I love you very much and wish you could be mine,” wrote Zizhou.
“When I am taking a bath with Clara, I always pretend it’s you the torture is unbearable. It hurts me that when I touch your lovely hand you cringe and ask me to stop. Do I repulse you? I desperately need to kiss you.
“Shamwari if I do get dismissed, it will be because I would like to do whatever I can for the person I care for most, you. Right now I am under pressure to balance the budget of CZI. You have just completed your probation and according to CZI rules, you are not eligible for the general increase for permanent staff, but the small adjustment that is in your appointment letter. I am bending the rule — for you, please hold on tight to me — if we crash, we crash together. I am awarding you the same percentage increase as everybody else. I am defending it against the treasurer this morning.
“I feel guilty as it is not right to expropriate you from your husband but unfortunately … Please God help me on this one as it has been giving me sleepless nights. You are the love of my life. I will do anything for you.”
Mbatha said she did not get support from the CZI president at the time.
“When she tried to follow up, she was told off. The President is said to have retorted that as a married woman, she should be ashamed to say that she had been sexually harassed,” Mafusire wrote.
After hitting a brick wall, she went for arbitration, which went on for years.
The arbitral tribunal in 2014 found that she had been unfairly dismissed. It also found that she had been sexually harassed.
Mbatha instituted court proceedings in June 2014 and found joy seven years later when she was awarded US$180 000.
Part of Justice Mafusire’s ruling
“The plaintiff wants a globular USD500 000. This level of quantum has no precedence. But, again, damages for sexual harassment have no precedence at all in this jurisdiction – at least to one’s knowledge.
“However, there is a salient detail that has contributed to the decision on quantum.
“In 2010, during without prejudice negotiations for an out of court settlement, when she was still legally represented, the plaintiff’s monetary proposals for mutual termination of employment were $60 000 after tax, $100 000 for sexual harassment and $8 500 for legal fees.
“Taking all factors into account, it is considered that the proper level of damages for the sexual harassment perpetrated by the first defendant upon the plaintiff, during the period of the plaintiff’s employment with the second defendant, from September 2002 to June 2003, is USD180 000 [one hundred and eighty thousand United States dollars].
“Therefore, the following order is hereby made: (i) The first defendant shall pay the plaintiff the sum of USD180 000 [one hundred and eighty thousand United States dollars], or the equivalent thereof in local currency, convertible at the inter-market bank rate at the time of payment.
(ii) The first defendant shall pay the plaintiff the amount aforesaid together with interest at the prescribed rate from the date of this judgment to the date of payment.
(iii) The first defendant shall pay the plaintiff’s costs of suit.”