Former Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) senior public relations officer Retired Major Shamim Haider will have to be content with the Z$2 944 554 granted her by an arbitrator in 2007 because it would need a “revolutionary” court decision to enforce a foreign currency equivalent, the labour court has ruled.
When she was fired for allegedly being a spy, the labour court ruled that Haider had been unfairly dismissed and ordered that she be compensated.
The arbitrator recommended Z$2 944 554 after considering inflation rate of the day.
By the time the money reached Haider a few weeks later, it was worth only US$30.
“When my lawyer told me that he had received an amount of Z$2 944 554 from ZDI, I immediately instructed him to transfer the money to my architect who would undertake some improvements on my flat.
But the architect informed me the amount was inadequate as it had a purchasing power of only US$30,” Haider said in an interview.
Justice Custom Kachambwa made the landmark ruling last month, dismissing an appeal by the former soldier for compensation to be awarded in US dollars.
The judge said while it was understandable that the Zimbabwe dollar was now redundant and worthless, it remained legal tender.
Only a legal instrument could change that, but there had been no such law passed yet, he said.
Besides, the judge said, “a debt sounding in money should simply be paid accordingly. The risk of inflation is on both sides.”
“The inflation scourge that this country went through was indeed phenomenal,” Kachambwa said.
“Many people lost their savings. Many awards of these courts were made meaningless. Indeed, many employers opted to pay damages rather than re-employ because the damages amounted to nothing.
“In some cases, the amounts were in the negative after factoring in the reduction of the zeros as for the Reserve Bank policies. This is an issue which probably calls for legislative intervention. The lower courts have their hands tied. Maybe some revolutionary decision will be made by the higher courts. For the time being, the workers will have to bear the rough end of it,” said the judge.
Kachambwa said the arbitrator had in fact gone out of his way to award a 100% interest rate on the principal damages award granted to Haider without her soliciting for it.
The ex-soldier was only entitled to the ordinary rate of interest and she had not asked to be hedged from inflation at all.
“How then can she cry when a rate well above the prescribed rate was given?” asked the judge.
“Surely that is like looking a gift horse in the mouth,” he said.
Haider, who is of Asian descent served in the Zimbabwe National Army for 16 years before she was dismissed in 2006 for allegedly spying and overstaying her sick leave.
Haider said a series of false accusations were levelled against her until she was relieved of her duties in 2006.
“I was accused, out of the blues, for being just the type who would call for sanctions against this country. Then in a grossly unfounded and unsubstantiated manner in 2003, I was accused of offending the American Defence Advisor,” said Rtd Maj Haider.
After her dismissal from work, she then sought legal advice and subsequently filed an application to the labour court for unfair dismissal and won the case in April 2007.
The arbitrator awarded her the equivalent of one year’s salary, all statutory benefits and interest of 100% per annum with effect from the date of dismissal, which was 17 July 2006.
Although Haider believes she was treated unfairly, she says she will not appeal against the judgment.