By Africa Moyo
The gloves are off in the crisis engulfing the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), which culminated in the sacking of board chairman Robin Vela last week. Mr Vela was dismissed by Labour and Social Welfare Minister Petronella Kagonye on March 27 on allegations that he is “not ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe”.
The allegations that Mr Vela spends most of his time attending to his businesses outside the country came to the fore after Norton Member of Parliament Themba Mliswa started circulating the messages on social media.
However, there are damaging claims that Mr Vela could have been fired for making alleged sexual advances to NSSA legal advisor and board secretarial services executive, Cynthia Mugwira.
Stung by Ms Mugwira’s allegations, Mr Vela has enlisted the services of top lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa of Mtetwa and Nyambirai law firm to fight the claims.
Through her lawyers – Biti Law – Ms Mugwira said she was being victimised “for resisting the predatory sexual advances” of Mr Vela.
But in a strongly worded letter to Biti Law, Mr Vela has dismissed the allegations, instead, claiming that Ms Mugwira is of loose morals.
“Our client denies in the strongest possible terms that he did anything towards your client that can be characterised as ‘sexual abuse, harassment or advances of a sexual nature’,” wrote Ms Mtetwa.
“In particular, he denies using the archaic fax communication alleged in your letter and points out that sexual harassment, by its very nature, is unlikely to be done through fax, email, SMS or WhatsApp, which are public forms of communication that could have been accessible to other persons.
“We are instructed that on the contrary, it was your client who regularly used to call ours (Mr Vela) requesting several meetings complaining about her employer’s general manager (Ms Elizabeth Chitiga),” added Mtetwa.
It is alleged that Ms Chitiga – who is rumoured to have also been fired last week – expressed displeasure at the way Ms Mugwira was dressed during one of NSSA’s board meetings.
Ms Mugwira was allegedly putting on a “tight fitting, mini figure-hugging skirt” in a board meeting dominated by males.
But given that Ms Mugwira kept calling the former board chairman to complain against Ms Chitiga, Mr Vela’s lawyer argues that in the realms of everyday behaviour, “a victim of sexual abuse and harassment” is highly unlikely to call the perpetrator.
Ms Mtetwa says Ms Mugwira could have raised her displeasure over Ms Chitiga’s remarks with other female board members.
The NSSA board has females on the legal and litigation committee and positions of deputy chairperson; human resources chairperson; as well as a remuneration and nomination committee official.
Further, Mtetwa has raised concern that Ms Mugwira did not raise the alleged sexual harassment as a grievance in sync with Clause 11 of her employment contract, instead choosing report to her lawyers.
“It is our client’s view that the allegations were never raised as a grievance for no other reason than that these are a figment of her imagination, an imagination that appears to have dogged her for most of her professional life given reports of a similar nature she made against men in her previous employment which will be supported by affidavits from various senior and respected persons in society including another NSSA board member also curiously accused, in the public space, to have also made advances at your client.
“Our client denies the allegations made against him and he challenges your client to produce the innumerable fax messages she alleges are in existence.
“He further denies the innuendo that your client’s problems with her employer are in any way connected to him; in particular he denies the suggestion that her employment issues have been motivated by the alleged rebuff of our client’s alleged sexual advances.
“Further, we are instructed that, our client has been made aware of a current sexual relationship your client has in today’s work place and several previous such relationship she has had with others which will also be supported by affidavits at the appropriate time,” wrote Ms Mtetwa.
Mr Vela is demanding that Ms Mugwira should “immediately and unreservedly” retract the allegations made, failure of which will result in a “vigorous and no-holds-barred” civil defamation action against her and proxies.