By Lawrence Kadzitche
“From Finance Department, we’re sending John Tsipe,” the Financial Controller said.
The nomination was accepted quickly and unanimously.
“From Administration we are sending Gloria Njoka,” announced the Human Resources Director.
The name, like the first one was accepted quickly and unanimously.
“From Engineering, we are sending Simon Thubwa,” the Engineering Director presented his nominee.
Silence crashed into the Boardroom at the speed of lightening. The ticking of the clock on the wall was like the beating of the drum. Three pairs of eyes looked at the Engineering Director with naked astonishment. For a full minute no-one uttered a word.
It was the Managing Director, sitting at the head of the mahogany boardroom table, who broke the oppressive silence. “Leon, I don’t think you’ve made a wise selection.”
“Why not? Simon is an intelligent young man, hard working and…”
The MD cut him. “I know that. Although Thubwa is definitely an asset to this company, I don’t think it’s wise to spend any money on him,” he paused and shrugged. “You don’t spend your money on a sinking ship no matter how good the ship is, do you?”
“With due respect, I don’t think the analogy is proper,” countered Leon. “Simon is not a sinking ship.”
“Well, maybe our friend David in human resources can explain better,” the MD said tilting his head in the direction of the Human Resources Director.
The HRD cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “We all know Thubwa is HIV positive. What the MD is trying to say is that it would not be prudent for the company to waste its scarce resources training a person whose future with this company is uncertain due to health reasons.”
“That’s surprising coming from you,” Leon said sarcastically. “I thought you were the best to explain our HIV/AIDS Workplace policy?”
“A policy is just a guideline,” responded the HRD with a smile. “Management may have to use its discretion in some matters.”
“Gentlemen, Simon maybe HIV positive but he’s in good health. He takes good care of himself. I don’t see why he shouldn’t be with us for the next twenty years.”
“He could be with us or not,” cut in the MD. “We can’t take the risk. Pick another employee.”
But the Engineering Director refused to be bulldozed. “Sir, any employee of this company can die at any time. Since we’re not sure whether they will be with us in the future should we not send them for training?”
“This case is different. Aids is a sure killer…”
“So are malaria and countless other diseases,” interposed Leon quickly.
“Leon, you’re part of Management,” said the MD with exasperation. “I’m sure you understand what I’m driving at.”
“Perfectly. That a deserving employee should be denied a chance to further his education because you’re afraid the company would lose money in the event that the employee succumbed to the disease….”
“Yes, yes, something like that,” interjected the Financial Controller. “Training is an investment from which an organisation expects to reap some fruits.”
“And that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make to the MD, John. Sending Simon for training is an investment from which I know this company will benefit.”
The MD raised his hand. “Leon…”
“Sir, it’s either Simon goes for training or nobody goes in my department,” Leon said with finality.
“Well, it’s your department,” the MD said with resignation. “We were only trying to help.”
With that the meeting ended. Leon left the meeting buoyant. Simon was an energetic young man who worked as an Assistant Engineer in the factory. He held a diploma and what the other members of corporate management had been objecting to was to send him to University for two years to upgrade to degree level
He called the young man to his office. “Simon, you’ll be going to University to do a degree course. Now I want you to show this company two things: that you can get the degree and use it for the benefit of this company.”
The two years passed quickly. Simon proved to be extra-ordinary student. He graduated with a degree with credit.
Leon was ecstatic. He had proved the other Directors wrong. With his newly acquired qualifications, Simon became a more resourceful worker and the company benefitted a lot.
Yet when a vacancy arose in the engineering department four years later, Leon again faced opposition from the other Directors when he proposed that Simon be appointed in the post.
“You should be looking at the future, Leon,” the MD pointed out. “We don’t want to be looking for another Engineering Manager in a few years.”
But Leon was obdurate and Simon was given the position. Simon continued working hard and earned the grudging respect of the MD. His health was not any better or worse than that of the other employees. He fell sick now and then but so did all the other employees. And is such a manner years followed each other.
In those years, he rose up the ladders of the company. Within the same years, the Financial Controller left for greener pastures. The HR Director also left, but not in the same manner. He died of what people speculated to be an AIDS related illness. The speculation was due to the fact that he had been sick off and on for three years and was wasted to the thinness of a rabid dog,
The MD and the Engineering Director retired at the same time. And then the impossible happened. When the MD was retiring, the Board appointed Simon the new MD. The old man had tears in his eyes when he was handing over his post to Simon. Simon had served the company for 30 years. Of the employees that had started work with him, only few remained with the company. Some had retired, others left or were fired and a good number were dead. But the man whom he had thought would die first had survived them all!