SEX­UAL ABUSE COVER-UP Worker ha­rasses client, tour firm plays down in­ci­dent

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page - Whins­ley Masara

A TOP re­sort com­pany em­ployee has been ac­cused of sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing a client and the com­pany al­legedly of­fered her a trip pack­age worth more than $5 000 to con­ceal the mat­ter.

Wild Hori­zons, based in Vic­to­ria Falls has how­ever de­nied the al­le­ga­tion of the in­ci­dent, which is said to have oc­curred on a pack­age tour run by the com­pany on May 27 this year.

Multi-award win­ning artist and poet, Miss Ti­nashe Tafirenyika of Bu­l­awayo said she has been com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Wild Hori­zons over the is­sue since then but no ac­tion has been taken against her as­sailant.

She said a Wild Hori­zons em­ployee, iden­ti­fied only as Knowl­edge, sex­u­ally ha­rassed her dur­ing a canopy tour which she had booked with her sis­ter.

“The com­pany, on be­half of Knowl­edge, has re­cently of­fered me a trip pack­age, in­stead of him apol­o­gis­ing, which I ex­pected af­ter he ad­mit­ted com­mit­ting the of­fence. I feel the of­fer is a bribe,” said Miss Tafirenyika.

“A week­end that I had set aside to sam­ple the splen­dours of our coun­try’s premier re­sort was spoiled by this one per­son, yet ev­ery­one in the town had been so nice to us.”

She said Knowl­edge made a very in­ap­pro­pri­ate phys­i­cal pass at her.

“I’m un­com­fort­able disclosing the ex­act na­ture of his ac­tion. I was mor­ti­fied, nat­u­rally. I had not ex­pected such be­hav­iour from any­one, es­pe­cially not at a re­sort of that na­ture.

“I re­ported the in­ci­dent at the re­cep­tion, which was in it­self un­pleas­ant as all the staff present at the time was male,” said Miss Tafirenyika.

She said she strug­gled in vain not to think about the is­sue and en­joy what was left of the week­end.

Two days later, Miss Tafirenyika said, the ac­tiv­i­ties man­ager, emailed her ask­ing for a de­tailed report of the in­ci­dent, which she pro­vided.

“When I asked what cor­rec­tive ac­tion had been taken, Mr Ndlovu ig­nored me un­til I sent him an­other email on June 21 threat­en­ing lit­i­ga­tion. Wild Hori­zons HR di­rec­tor, Ne­vi­son Bara, then emailed on June 22 and asked that I meet Bar­bara Murasir­anwa, their Cor­po­rate Af­fairs Di­rec­tor, which I did.”

“On June 29, I met her and the HR as­sis­tant, where they of­fered me and my sis­ter re­funds and Wild Hori­zons mer­chan­dise, ex­pect­ing that an over­sized t-shirt and cap were sup­posed to make ev­ery­thing all bet­ter,” she said.

“I ex­plained to them that it wasn’t re­ally the money but the prin­ci­ple. I felt if I were white or an­other race or an in­ter­na­tional tourist, or had been a man, or trav­el­ling with a man, Knowl­edge would not have ha­rassed me. The in­ci­dent only gave cred­i­bil­ity to the no­tion that young black women are not safe trav­el­ling alone in their own coun­try.”

“I told them I would con­sider not mak­ing the in­ci­dent pub­lic if they im­proved their com­pany pol­icy to en­sure such does not hap­pen again and in the event that it does, it is han­dled bet­ter.”

“I re­ceived a let­ter drafted by the Wild Hori­zons lawyer, Give­more Mvhiringi, on July 13. It was a nondis­clo­sure agree­ment I was meant to sign.

“I sent a let­ter, ask­ing them to re­view the agree­ment and also add ba­sic things such as a writ­ten apol­ogy from Knowl­edge since they wouldn’t fire him. Wild Hori­zons re­sponded by in­sult­ing me, say­ing the hol­i­day they of­fered was worth a lot of money and was ‘sub­stan­tial.’

“I would like to be­lieve the changes I had asked them to im­ple­ment, like hav­ing a fe­male mem­ber of staff at their re­cep­tion, would cost much less than the $5 217 hol­i­day they were try­ing to force down my throat.”

Mr Mvhiringi de­nied the al­le­ga­tions say­ing Miss Tafirenyika was try­ing to black­mail the com­pany.

“Our clients’ in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the whole com­plaint re­vealed that its client Miss Tafirenyika was not sex­u­ally ha­rassed.

“In­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions were car­ried out. Af­ter the client ex­pressed fur­ther dis­sat­is­fac­tion, our client met the cor­po­rate af­fairs di­rec­tor and hu­man re­sources [as­sis­tant] who re­funded its client as per their com­pany pol­icy and pro­ce­dure when is­sues con­cern­ing ac­tiv­i­ties have been raised but all is done at the com­pany’s dis­cre­tion.

“Client de­manded that Wild Hori­zons also re­fund her sis­ter which was done and that she be com­pen­sated by com­ing back to re-ex­pe­ri­ence the prod­uct. Our client ac­ceded to her de­mands in the in­ter­ests of keep­ing a client happy but the client in­di­cated that she was fi­nan­cially in­ca­pac­i­tated so she would need to be trans­ported to Vic­to­ria Falls and back to Bu­l­awayo, to be ac­com­mo­dated and be fed in Vic­to­ria Falls.

“Sur­pris­ingly, she also de­manded that Wild Hori­zons host her en­tire fam­ily of five and still our client ac­ceded to her de­mands, with­out prej­u­dice, be­liev­ing she was an of­fended client and this is where the $5 000 is com­ing from. How­ever, she went on to de­mand that Wild Hori­zons gives her ac­cess to its in­ter­nal pol­icy in deal­ing with fe­male clients’ complaints in a male en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

Mr Mvhiringi said the re­fund was in line with Wild Hori­zons’ client pol­icy not an ad­mis­sion of guilt.

“All this was done with­out prej­u­dice and it was not an ad­mis­sion of guilt at all as our client’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions had re­vealed that the client had not been sex­u­ally ha­rassed. The com­pany never had the in­ten­tion to bribe or con­ceal the mat­ter as the client was al­ways at liberty and is still at liberty to report the case to the po­lice.”

“Our client never of­fered the client a pack­age and the re­fund was done in terms of com­pany pol­icy since to our client the ‘cus­tomer is king’ and they are very sen­si­tive to gen­der and race is­sues,” he said. — @win­nie_­masara

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