AIR Zimbabwe (AirZim) chief executive officer (CEO), Ripton Muzenda has been fired from the airline on charges of incompetence after refusing to implement a $2,4 million retrenchment programme as directed by government and the airline’s board.
Muzenda’s exit follows the recent departure of chief operating officer Simba Chikore, former President Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law who quit at the height of political turmoil which led to the forced resignation of Zimbabwe’s sole leader since indepdence 37 years ago.
AirZim is 100 percent controlled by government.
Reports said friction between Muzenda and the AirZim board escalated after he refused to sign contracts for new top management recruits and stood his ground against board directives over some aspects of a new turnaround strategy.
However, sources said if the embattled CEO had signed the contracts of about five new managers drafted to replace executives fired in a frenzy of dismissals in August, the executive salary bill would have increased five times.
Managers targeted in the purges instituted by the Chipo Dyanda-led AirZim board were earning about $1 200 per month.
But sources said the new recruits had been offered $6 000 monthly salaries.
Dyanda declined requests for an interview this week.
But Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister, Joram Gumbo confirmed Muzenda’s departure yesterday.
He said a charge of incompetence had been made against the short-lived AirZim boss.
Muzenda did not respond to The Financial Gazette’s questions. he was not picking calls, and did not respond to messages sent to his Whatsapp handle.
“He was not fired, but his lawyers and the airline agreed to go their separate ways,” Gumbo said.
He said Muzenda, a pilot, had failed to display the aptitude required for an airline administrator.
The minister said government had sourced the $2,4 million, which the AirZim CEO declined to implement.
Top managers caught up in the ruthless purges included acting general manager (GM) for AirZim’s passenger division, Christopher Kwenda, GM for Cargo, Gift Katsande, acting GM for finance Patience Gachira and legal and company secretary Bertha Zakeyo.
Gachira had replaced Tendai Chisi, who also had a short-lived stint at the troubled national flag carrier.
The AirZim board was forced to redraft some of the staff it fired in August.
In the wake of the potentially explosive situation, the AirZim board is said to have escalated its plan to push Muzenda out and direct the incoming acting CEO to immediately fill the positions.
This came as friction between Muzenda and the AirZim board had reached tipping point after his management team queried why AirZim was being forced to fund expenses related to Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways), a new private airline.
People familiar with the developments said Dyanda delivered the blow on a Friday three weeks ago.
And immediately after that, she is said to have embarked on the top management recruitment drive.
In addition, the AirZim chairperson is said to have sounded out potential suitors and assured them that she would introduce them to new Finance and Economic Development Minister, Ignatius Chombo.
It could not be established if Muzenda had thrown spanners into the board’s efforts to find new investors to turnaround AirZim.
A fallout over contracts was among a litany of accusations against Muzenda, which sparked confrontations between the CEO and the AirZim board, including disagreements over travel expenses related to ZimAirways.
ZimAirways is said to be controlled by President Robert Mugabe’s family.
AirZim sources revealed how Muzenda, a captain, and his executive had warned against board directives for AirZim to foot travel expenses for its engineers who were dispatched to Malaysia for familiarising with ZimAirways’ fleet of Boeing 777s.
The fleet is due to be delivered in the coming months.
An AirZim board member who spoke on condition that he is not quoted revealed that tempers had flared after Muzenda resisted the board’s “decrees” and clashed with Dyanda over the direction of the overall turnaround strategy.
“It is confirmed, captain Muzenda has left AirZim,” a board member said.
“They agreed to part ways with the board. The main reason was that there was no convergence of views on strategies to turn around the airline more so with the confusion brought about by ZimAirways,” said the source.
In a surprise move, AirZim technical services director, Joseph Makonise, was appointed acting CEO.
Makonise promised to get back to The Financial Gazette when reached for comment.
He was appointed ahead of Simba Chikowore, then the airline’s powerful chief operating officer, until his unceremonious departure last week, as the world crumbled around Mugabe.
His tenure came under tremendous test last week, after army generals moved to take over State House and piled pressure on him to relinquish power.
Mugabe’s son-in-law, Chikowore, was widely tipped to take over the AirZim CEO’s role.