The final order was all thanks to the incredible tenacity of the victim in the matter who spent two decades fighting her former boss, Farai Bwatikona Zizhou, CEO of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, in the face of legal stalling and mockery of her claims.
The judgment, handed down in December by Harare High Court Judge Joseph Martin Mafusire, has been widely lauded and finally creates case law for other victims of workplace sexual harassment to rely on.
It also provides a basis on which RM, as the woman is called in the judgment, can pursue a similar pending damages claim against the confederation itself for not taking her accusations seriously and the “flippant if not contemptuous” response by its president.
Evidence before Judge Mafusire was that RM worked for Zizhou as his personal assistant from 2002 until 2003 when she was fired on “trumped up charges” engineered by Zizhou after she complained that he was touching her inappropriately, had attempted to kiss her, and sent her offensive telephone messages and pornography.
The matter went to arbitration “which went on for years” and finally, in March 2014, the tribunal ruled that RM had been unfairly dismissed and had been sexually harassed.
Her claim for damages was heard in both the High Court and the Supreme Court which ultimately overturned an earlier decision that her claim had prescribed. Armed with this ruling, RM went back to the High Court and, after Zizhou repeatedly missed deadlines to file papers, she applied for default judgment against him.
In his ruling, Judge Mafusire lamented the fact that there was no precedent for the case in Zimbabwe. But, he said, in terms of the Constitution, every person had inherent dignity and the right to have that respected. “It is axiomatic that sexual harassment, especially at the workplace, strips the victim of his or her dignity. It degrades her.”
He said other sections of the Constitution protected the right to bodily and psychological integrity and guaranteed the freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment. “Therefore a claim for damages for sexual harassment is an attempt to vindicate such constitutional and other rights as will have been frittered away by Zizhou.”
The judge noted that RM had submitted an affidavit and other documents showing that she had suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder, physical and emotional pain “with scarcely suppressed anger”. Her personality had changed – she had been engaging, outgoing and loved reading, she had a good sense of humour. All that had gone. She had also dropped out of her law degree because she had lost confidence, and her marriage had broken up. She could not even get another job because of the negative testimonials from Zizhou.
“The sexual harassment was persistent…there was never an apology,” the judge said. “Any lesser mortal would probably have given up. Her tenacity and fighting spirit has moved mountains. She is still fighting. And this only settles half her case. The other half (against the Confederation) still continues.”
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