FORMER Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) chief executive Farai Zizhou has been ordered by the High Court to pay his ex-personal assistant Rita Marque Mbatha US$180 000 damages for sexual harassment.
This follows a spirited fight by Mbatha over the past two decades after she was sexually harassed by Zizhou during her time of employment with the CZI.
Mbatha had claimed US$500 000 from both Zizhou and CZI. However the law suit against the CZI is yet to be finalised.
She worked at the CZI between 2002 and 2003 and Zizhou made sexual advances to her.
In delivering his judgment, High Court judge, Justice Martin Mafusire said he was impressed by how Mbatha pressed on against all odds.
She said Mbatha, now an International Alliance representative, and human rights advocate was a strong woman who had fought for justice.
“The matter has had a long and turbulent history. Mbatha 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,” the judge said.
“She has been to the Supreme Court. She is back to this court. She strives for closure. Any lesser mortal would probably have given up. Plainly, the Mbatha is no lesser mortal. Her tenacity and fighting spirit have moved mountains. She is still fighting. This judgment only settles her case. The other half still continues.”
Mbatha alleged sexual harassment of female employees at CZI was rampant, and said Zizhou was the sole culprit.
“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 (Zizhou) engineered it all. He schemed it. She had reported him for sexual harassment. He took revenge.
“The charges were inappropriate touching, unwelcome offensive jokes, invitation by innuendo to an inappropriate sexual relationship, receiving offensive telephone messages, receiving pornography on the computer, an attempt to kiss by force, causing an injury on the thigh in the process of resisting,” reads the judgement.
According to electronic messages submitted during the application, Zizhou pestered Mbatha to give in to an affair despite the fact that they were both married.
“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. 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,” Zizhou wrote in an email to Mbatha.
“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. Doing so will cost CZI an extra $3 million in employment and other costs for the three people involved.
“The others are lucky to be associated with you. This will wipe out the surplus we were going to make after selling the Land Rover. The treasurer had made his recommendations following the rule and I have asked Venek to make the changes before he comes for the final meeting this morning.”
Zizhou added: “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 love. I will do anything for you.”
The arbitral tribunal in March 2014 found Mbatha was unfairly dismissed and sexually harassed by Zizhou. Psychiatric reports obtained from Mbatha’s doctors noted that she was severely traumatised by the experience.
Justice Mafusire ruled Mbatha suffered severe posttraumatic stress disorder as a result.
“This condition manifested almost immediately after the abuse. She experienced recurrent involuntary and intrusive memories of the traumatic event. Her pain was acute, with chances of recovery rated as being very poor. Treatment would be extensive and indefinite.”
“She suffered physical and emotional pain, which scarcely suppressed anger. During the counselling sessions, she would lose track of her answers midway through and would ask that questions be repeated,” reads the judgment.
“Before the incident, she was engaging, outgoing, and loved reading. She had a good sense of humour. All that is gone. She experiences recurrent nightmares. Her sleep is broken most nights. She has lost all confidence in herself. There was another kind of collateral damage. She says her marriage broke up, largely because of the change in her personality.
“She says the situation was further compounded by the defendants’ conduct after her unfair dismissal. She could not secure alternative employment thanks to the defendants’ negative testimonials to her potential prospective employers. The plaintiff’s case seems such a textbook case. Manifestly, no amount of money seems adequate enough to compensate for her loss,” the judge said.
“The sexual harassment was persistent. There has never been an apology.
“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 US$180 000, or the equivalent thereof in local currency, convertible at the inter-market bank rate at the time of payment.
“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. The first defendant shall pay the plaintiff’s costs of suit.”