Office romance:Is superior-subordinate sex appropriate?

Malvern Mkudu


The Jah Prayzah ( Mukudzei Mukombe)- Gonyeti ( Pamela Zulu) saga has split opinion on social media.The nation has been  divided into two camps one in favour of Jah Prayzah ( the bigger group) and another sympathising with Gonyeti by far the smaller group. It is clear that superior-subordinate sexual relations are going on at work but for many this a normal thing.

The majority of the pro-Jah Prayzah people are arguing that Gonyeti was not raped and she took  long to expose the matter making her version of events questionable. Some have attacked Gonyeti’s personality calling her a woman of questionable morals who must not be believed. Some of us who have tried to support Gonyeti have been called haters (tiri kurwadziwa). It’s sad that is how shallow the argument has become.

For starters Gonyeti is not claiming that she was raped. She is simply stating that she was involved in a relationship that she consented to but  the other person was a boss who made unreasonable demands such as insisting on unprotected sex. This is a woman who was not being paid her wages according to the admission of the musician himself and it is therefore reasonable that she may have been vulnerable to the sexual advances of her boss.

Her financial situation made her bargaining power very limited as it may have been disastrous to spurn the advances of the person who pays her wages. Secondly her boss is the one in charge of deciding who goes on lucrative overseas shows and the temptation to advance her career could have lured Gonyeti into this relationship. Many women say Jah Prayzah is good looking so we also cannot rule out that Gonyeti fell in love with him without any coercion.

We are pursuing a petty conversation about feelings of jealousy and envy when we should be talking about an important issue of sexual harassment at work. An opportunity to discuss and address a scourge that has been affecting women at various working stations has been trivialised and lost.

This is a typical work place incident where a boss allegedly uses his power and influence to get sexual favours from a subordinate. It happens on a daily basis to women and even men working for predatory bosses. For some it has become a normal occurrence but for others it is not a big deal if the people involved are consenting adults.

We have also heard of interns on attachment being ‘preyed’ on by bosses at work. There is no clarity on what the law says in Zimbabwe and therefore policy on this matter tends to differ from one organisation to another.

There were varying answers on what the correct position on superior –subordinate sex is in Zimbabwe. One person said it is wrong to have sex with a subordinate that one is directly supervising while another revealed that bosses at his work place have multiple girlfriends at work and they have promoted these girlfriends ahead of other employees.

A human resources manager with one of the local companies said “It is generally not expressly prohibited but its discouraged and career limiting. Dating your subordinate affects objectivity but it happens all the time”

It seems our society still accepts that this practice is normal. Most work places are still controlled by men who are reluctant to change their mindset in order to conform to the new trends were women are becoming more involved in professional work.

This case has similarities with the case involving then COSATU Secretary General Zwelenzima Vavi who had sexual relations with his married subordinate.

Vavi made disparaging comments about the woman as having questionable morals and on a mission to extort money from him because of his standing in society. The Commission on Gender Equality subsequently called on South African organisations to craft policies that make the work place a safe place for men and women. He eventually apologised for his moral failings and disciplinary proceedings against him were withdrawn.

These things have happened in developed countries such as the  US. It  involved big organisations and they have crafted policies to give guidelines. Former IMF chief Dominique Straus-Kahn was involved in superior-subordinate relationships which were swept under the carpet.  The IMF has no clear rules, the World Bank has a presumption of wrongdoing, and the U.S. military has a flat prohibition against superior-subordinate sex.

‘ The IMF maintains a more permissive stance” towards superior-subordinate sex, which do not, per se, constitute harassment. But “the World Bank, by contrast, says such a relationship is ‘a de facto conflict of interest.'”

Obviously different organisations have different cultures and therefore different ways of dealing with superior subordinate sex.  What is needed is a national guiding policy that gives overall guidelines on how these issues ought to be tackled.

The purposes of such policies include concerns that such relationships may be the product of subtle or not-so-subtle coercion. It may lead to favouritism at work or low morale of workers and may undermine the organisations reputation for fairness. There may be law suits or general embarrassment to the organisation when such relationships end in tears.

Jah Prayzah runs a small band where he is the boss and he may not have the appreciation that he is an employer who needs to have systems that make it safe for his employees to work in. These are things he may take for granted because he either doesn’t take his occupation seriously enough or he lacks the necessary education and professionalism to appreciate these things.

According to Gonyeti it is clear that the two had consensual sex. Jah Prayzah  seems not to deny that sexual intercourse occurred between the two colleagues.  Gonyeti claims if she had not consented she was scared of losing her job or not having her career advancing in a manner she would have preferred.  No one will ever know the truth but what is clear is that the image of the band has been damaged.

Jah Prayzah is a (PSI) ambassador who deals with matters of HIV/ AIDS and revelations that he refused to use condoms during the sexual encounters will certainly send the wrong message to his fans and those he seeks to convince. Based on this allegation alone it is no longer tenable for the musician to continue as an advocate of responsible and safe sex.

Lives have been ruined by this regrettable incident. May be there was consent or consent was subtly coerced from ‘Gonyeti’ by her boss but what is apparent is that the image of the band has now suffered. What is even more disturbing is that according to Zimbabwean laws and labour policies Jah Prayzah may actually be in the clear in this matter. Our society must move with the times.

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