Struggling Air Zimbabwe’s shock appointment of Bona Mugabe’s husband as chief operating officer (COO) has been described as unusual by a human resources expert as the process took less than a month amid revelations that he is not qualified for the job.
The airline, weighed down heavily by a $300 million debt, announced that it had picked Simba Chikore as its COO, amid a chorus of disapproval from critics who said the move smacked of nepotism.
Chikore, who married President Robert Mugabe’s only daughter Bona in 2014, has been described as inexperienced as measured against the job requirements in the vacancy notice advertised in September.
According to respected human resources expert Memory Nguwi, it takes over a month to hire a COO or chief executive.
The application process for the post was closed on September 5, and the appointment was announced on October 4, barely 20 working days after the closing date.
“On average, it takes three months to recruit senior officers like chief executive or COO,” Nguwi said.
“The turnaround time for such recruitments is three months but this can be longer depending on whether the person to be appointed has to give notice to his/her employer before taking a new position.
“Some circumvent this by paying in lieu of leave.”
In the advert, AirZim said it was looking for a COO with 10 years recent and direct relevant experience in the airline industry, proven record of five years successful operational management experience in one or more of these specific areas: flight operations, commercial planning, regulatory compliance, ground operations, reservations, customer services or flight technical services.
Those who worked with Chikore at AirZim say he has no such management experience.
An executive at AirZim said Chikore never had managerial experience at the national airline.
“He was a first officer on the B767,” said the executive who requested to remain anonymous.
“You can enquire with Qatar Airways whether he held a management position or last position in the airline.
“Just to note that the three top positions are now occupied by pilots with no previous managerial experience.”
There are claims that Chikore worked for Qatar Airways before he married Bona, but it is the revelations that he was a mere first officer at Air-Zim that fly in the face of claims by Transport minister Jorum Gumbo that the president’s son-in-law was overqualified for the job.
A first officer in commercial aviation is a co-pilot and is subordinate to the captain who is the legal commander.
A former senior executive confirmed that Chikore never rose above the rank of first officer.
“He was only a first officer by the time he left AirZim around 2011,” the ex-senior executive said.
The source said the ongoing management changes at Air Zimbabwe were being implemented in preparation for privatisation of the airline.
“This team of new management is being put because it is pliable to the intentions of privatising the airline,” he said.
“The plan has always been on the table but everyone suspected the question had been strategically removed under the ongoing restructuring.”
The privatisation plan has been on the table since the days of the Ozias Bvute-led board.
Elaborate details of the AirZim privatisation plan are contained in a confidential document entitled: Information Memorandum that was prepared by MetBank and GGF Global Finance who acted as the airline’s financial advisors.
“The purpose of this information memorandum is to provide investment information to targeted prospective investor(s) who are being invited to acquire shares in the ordinary share capital of AirZim and invest in corporate bonds being issued by AirZim,” the document reads.
AirZim chairperson, Chipo Dyanda could not be reached for comment, but earlier in the week she claimed Chikore’s appointment was above board.
Meanwhile, political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said Air Zimbabwe must make public the processes it took to hire senior executives.
The national carrier last month also appointed late Vice-President Simon Muzenda’s son, Ripton, as its new CEO under a dark cloud.
“The aviation industry is a sensitive sector. It is not a tomato manufacturing plant and Chikore as well as the ministry should shame their detractors and reveal not only the process and procedures followed before his appointment, but his qualifications and experience as well,” he said.
“Air Zimbabwe is a strategic national institution so it is important that appointments there were made with the utmost care.
Ruhanya said the argument should not be about Chikore being Mugabe’s relative but whether he is qualified or not.
“We should not be myopic and argue that because Chikore is Mugabe’s son-in-law he should not have been given a job by Air Zimbabwe,” he said.
“He should, like all other Zimbabweans get a job, but on merit. The question should be, was the process that got him where he is meritocratic? Is he qualified and does he have the necessary experience?”
Mugabe has used his influence to get close family members into positions and in the process has thrown out of the window liberation war ethos and principles built around freedom, meritocracy and equal opportunity.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and political scientist Eldred Masunungure said Zimbabweans had reason to be worried about Chikore’s appointment.
“It’s a worrying trend that is unfortunately not new, but it has now reached alarming levels,” he said.
“There is clear lack of respect for merit and objective consideration in every facet of our society led by those in power.
“Corruption and nepotism have become systemic at a time of endemic corruption and as they say, a fish rots from the head.”
Masunungure said under Mugabe, corruption and underhand dealings had deepened to the detriment of the generality of Zimbabweans.
“It’s now affecting every facet of our society and in fact, corruption and nepotism have become essential parts of our culture as well as social fabric,” he said.
“It’s now fashionable but sad and unfortunate that corruption has become the defining feature of Mugabe, hitherto seen as a super liberator and a man of the people.
“Given that nobody has been punished has given root to the scourge.”
Mugabe has over the years appointed a number of his relatives to senior government posts and to also head parastatals.