Former Natpharm managing and operations manager, Zealous Nyabadza has been ordered by the High Court to surrender a Toyota Hilux, which he was given as his official vehicle during his time in office.

This follows a successful court application by Natpharm following the termination of his employment.

Nyabadza’s contract with the company was, according to court papers, terminated on 31 August 2020.

He was asked to return the vehicle but he refused prompting his former employer to pursue the legal route.

In its application, Natpharm said it entered into a three-year fixed-term contract of employment with Nyabadza on 1 September 2017.

One of the conditions of the contract was that the applicant would provide the respondent with a motor vehicle which would be surrendered on the expiry of the contract.

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The court heard on 6 January 2020, Natpharm sent Nyabadza a written notification reminding him that his contract was due to expire on 31 August 2020.

“The respondent’s right to possess the vehicle ceased upon the termination of his employment contract. He was therefore in unlawful possession of the said vehicle. All efforts to regain possession of the vehicle had been in vain,” the court heard.

Nyabadza challenged the application arguing that Natpharm had no right to institute the present proceedings since the question of the ownership of the vehicle was presently lis pendens (had a pending lawsuit attached to it).

He said he had instituted a claim for unlawful termination of his contract of employment and for payment of his terminal benefits. The claim was yet to be resolved.

Concerning the merits, Nyabadza claimed that he was employed by Natpharm as Information and Technology Manager from 1 September 2005.

He said he had been Natpharm’s employee for 15 years as the short-term employment contracts got renewed before their expiry.

Nyabadza said he had five contracts with the last one tacitly relocating to the sixth.

According to Nyabadza, his contract was supposed to lapse on 31 August 2020, but it did not.

“The contractual relationship continued until its termination on 6 January 2021. In addition to his contractual obligations, at one point he was employed as the Operations Manager as well as the Acting Managing Director.

“On the expiry of the additional short-term contracts as Operations Manager and Managing Director respectively, he continued with his position as Information Technology Manager, even after 31 August 2020,” his lawyers submitted.

Nyabadza also denied that the fixed-term contract required him to surrender the vehicle upon its termination.

He said part of the contract stipulated that the use and disposal of the vehicle was subject to the Board of Directors approved vehicle policy.

He added that the policy stated that a manager who had been allocated a vehicle was entitled to purchase the vehicle provided he had served for five years.

“The respondent contends that the period which entitled him to own the vehicle commenced on 1 September 2015 to 31 August 2020,” the court was told.

The court however ruled in favour of Natpharm ordering Nyabadza to immediately surrender the vehicle.

“From the above provisions of the Transport Policy, it is clear to me that a manager was entitled to purchase the company-issued vehicle upon satisfying certain conditions.

“I don’t interpret that entitlement to mean that the manager concerned had a right of retention before formally purchasing that vehicle.

“Ownership rights are still vested in the applicant as the ex-employer. The applicant must initiate a sale process by making an offer to the respondent who must accept that offer.

“The respondent can not legally claim a right of retention of a motor vehicle that does not belong to him.

“Even if his claim is founded on the provisions of his former contract of employment, and the applicant’s Transport Policy, the parties still must formalise the sale of the vehicle to the applicant through an offer and acceptance culminating into an agreement of sale,” ruled the judge Siyabona Musithu before ordering Nyabadza to surrender the vehicle within 48 hours of his order. — NewZimbabwe

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