NETONE chief executive Lazarus Muchenje yesterday got a second reprieve after the High Court suspended the termination of his employment contract until the NetOne board has a chance to file its reply to an application to reverse the dismissal pending the final resolution of the labour dispute.
Muchenje went to the High Court on Monday seeking to suspend, at least temporarily, the decision by the company’s board to fire him on three months’ notice last week, hours after he was reinstated by a court order.
He wanted the dismissal suspended until the dispute was settled in court.
When the parties appeared before Justice Webster Chinamora sitting in his chambers for the hearing of the urgent application, the NetOne board members through their lawyer Mr Gugulethu Ndlovu, asked for a postponement of the matter to enable them to file their opposing papers.
Justice Chinamora granted the request and deferred the case to August 4, but suspended the termination of Muchenje’s contract until the matter is finalised.
In issuing the interim order, Justice Chinamora said he was doing so to preserve the integrity of the proceedings and the efficacy of eventual order that he will grant after hearing arguments.
“The letter dated 9 July authored by the second respondent and addressed to the applicant shall not be put into effect,” he said.
“No publication shall be made by any of the respondents to the effect that applicant’s contract has been terminated.”
Justice Chinamora gave both parties legal counsel timelines of filing their papers necessary for the matter.
He highlighted the areas which he requires the parties’ lawyers to address.
Both must first address the legality of the dismissal of Muchenje, done in terms of the Labour Act and common law, which requires the giving of three months’ notice.
Justice Chinamora asked both legal counsel to consider the Public Entity and Corporate Governance Act, as read together with Public Entity and Corporate Governance Regulations in particular Section 11, which provides for the dismissal of a chief executive of a public entity.
He required legal counsel to indicate which of the Labour Act and Governance Act has precedence over the other.
This is because Section 11 of the regulations when read with Section 16 the Governance Act provides that “a chief executive of the public entity shall not be dismissed or be required to vacate his or her office unless he or she has been guilty of misconduct inconsistent with the discharge of his or her duties or if he or she failed to comply with conditions of service or provision of the contract . . .”
Muchenje successfully challenged his original suspension in court, leading to his reinstatement last Thursday, but the board immediately followed “due process” and terminated his services a few hours later, in line with provisions of the Labour Act that allow dismissal on three months’ notice.
He is now suing the company’s board chair Ms Susan Mutangadura and four other board members — Winston Makamure, Dr Rangarirayi Mavhunga, Dr Beulah Chirume, Dr Douglas Mamvura and NetOne — in his urgent chamber application filed at the High Court on Monday.