Midlands State University (MSU) faces a massive staff exodus after implementing a skewed and controversial employee voluntary retrenchment scheme, which was unexpectedly oversubscribed leaving the institution in a state of quandary, investigations by CITE have shown.
Sources at MSU whose main campus is in the Midlands provincial capital – Gweru – accuse Professor Victor Ngonidzashe Muzvidziwa-led new administration of running down the academic institution which was once the pride of the province.
Muzvidziwa took over the reins at MSU from renowned academic and founding vice-chancellor, Professor Ngwabi Bhebhe in an acting capacity in 2016 and substantively two years later.
CITE is reliably informed that following a directive from the Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Ministry to trim its staff, MSU, which employs plus or minus 2,500, introduced a voluntary retrenchment scheme for its staff in July last year.
The scheme according to the sources was crafted in such a way that those who offer to voluntarily leave get retrenchment packages, while those who are forced will not get all their employee benefits.
“The first notice [of the retrenchment scheme] was given in July 2021, the second October 2021, and the final November 2021 but implementation began on the 28th of February 2022,” said a source at the university, adding it targeted all faculties save for Medicine and Engineering.
A number of employees had to take up the offer, which according to sources was however not the best.
“It (the offer) wasn’t at all attractive but several factors made employees go for it,” explained the source.
“There was a threat that if employees don’t take the voluntary package they would be compulsorily retrenched which would mean less money. True to those fears, there are some employees who were given letters for compulsory retrenchment this week (April 10 – 16) and they basically go home with nothing.”
He said the need to pursue other interests like going out of the country, starting a business, or farming for those who have land compelled some of the employees to take up the offer.
The source said the other reason was a result of: “demotivation at work arising from the new administration’s vindictive attitude.”
According to sources, MSU staff is poorly remunerated with salaries ranging from ZWL$10, 000 to ZWL$80, 000.
While the exact number of workers who volunteered to exit MSU under the voluntary retrenchment package could not be ascertained, CITE is reliably informed that a significant number took up the offer.
“I doubt if they have a particular figure (that they were targeting),” said a source.
“To me, the process is random and chaotic.”
He said the university management also manipulated the scheme to get rid of some employees considered vocal and loyal to the previous administration citing as an example a Mr Gore, a former catering manager, and those close to him.
“There are also plenty of targeted individuals in various departments who the administration views as being loyal to the previous administration,” elaborated the source.
Following the unexpected oversubscription to the scheme, the university management, according to sources then decided to allow some employees to continue working beyond the deadline of the termination of their contracts and subsequent retrenchment.
The deadlines that had been set for the termination of contracts of employees who subscribed to the scheme were 28 February and 31 March for the first and second batch respectively after which compulsory retrenchment was set to follow suit.
Asked what reasons the MSU management was giving for allowing some employees to continue working beyond the deadline of the termination of contracts, the source said: “They are getting desperate as their targeted new recruitments are refusing to join the university due to the poor salaries that it is paying.”
He went on further to say: “An example is the Health Services Department where they are failing to attract new nurses despite the fact that the leadership of the department wanted some nurses gone for silly reasons. After failing to attract nurses, the vindictive head of the department, Gerald Hangaika, decides to punish those he perceived to be his enemies by asking them to resign so that they don’t get any package. It’s an insane strategy I tell you.”
When the employees confronted the university management over the issue, sources said their concerns were trivialised.
“The university has been negative and Mr Nyamande from HR (Human Resources Department) even told some aggrieved workers that the university is ready to meet them in court,” decried a source, adding a large chunk of employees are set to leave MSU either voluntarily or by force.
“The compulsory option will result in some dying of stress because it’s being used to settle scores by the bosses. MSU is now a pale shadow of its former self with low staff morale, poor service delivery, and low salaries.”
Contract workers, sources said were also being gotten rid of as part of the scheme, which they feel lack transparency.
The university is yet to pay packages to those who have since parted ways with it and former employees have told CITE they are very much concerned that by the time they get their money it would be worthless considering the rate at which the local currency is weakening against major currencies.
“I think the university is intentionally dragging its feet until the packages are worthless,” he added.
Sources said some employees have since engaged lawyers over the issue, with MSU now in a fire-fighting kind of approach and claiming to be dealing with the issue on a case by case basis.
“People have gone to various avenues to seek help and fairness,” said a former employee.
“They (MSU) have been asked by the Labour Court to explain to employees the method used to pass compulsory retrenchment.
The sources further said the HR Department has told them with regards to the Health Services Department, the head of the department who said: “wanted to prove to us that he can stall our things” was to blame for his cruelty.
“Now looking at the paperwork, which is so transparent, it is so sad that they are failing even to explain or give reasons for the delays,” the former employee said.
He said it was disheartening to note that the Health director who would tell nurses some of whom have landed jobs in the diaspora, they were easy to replace before they left, was now dragging his feet, stopping management from paying them their dues demanding that they come back to work.
MSU has however chosen to be tight-lipped about the unbecoming developments at the institution.
Contacted for comment, the university’s director of information and public relations, Mirirai Mawere, initially requested that questions be sent to her via email which was done.
However, when a follow-up was made the following day Mawere said she was out of office adding someone else would get in touch with this reporter to give the university’s side of the story.
MSU registrar, Tinashe Zishiri, then phoned and said they would only respond after meeting with this reporter, CITE editor, and director, and requested that it be done during the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) week in Bulawayo.
Attempts to convince him that all that was needed was to simply respond to the allegations raised against the institution without necessarily complicating things proved futile.
Upon being told that only this reporter and the editor would be available to meet MSU staff at ZITF, Zishiri cancelled the scheduled meeting insisting the director should also be there.
He added that they were even prepared to drive from Gweru to Bulawayo to meet CITE top leadership at a later date insisting there was no need to rush publishing the story.
Meanwhile, MSU an assistant bursar facing charges of defrauding the university of more than ZWL$10 million escaped at Gweru Magistrate’s Courts before his matter was set down for trial last Thursday.
Norman Chiwanza, who was arrested last Wednesday and is now on the police wanted list, had been brought to court to answer allegations of defrauding the university of more than ZWL$6 million and US$30 110.
According to court papers, Chiwanza has been paying salaries to ghost workers, including his wife, from the university’s coffers.