By Mashudu Netsianda
The High Court has ordered a company that is unlawfully operating Halfway Hotel at Gwaai Farm in Hwange district to vacate the property.
The ruling by Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Martin Makonese follows an application by the Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Retired Chief Air Marshal Perrance Shiri seeking an eviction order against Tetra Heights, cited as a defendant.
“It is ordered that the defendant, together with their guests, invitees and any other person claiming occupation through the defendant as well as their goods, possessions and chattels be and hereby ordered to vacate the plaintiff’s property being Gwaai Halfway Hotel and Service Station,” ruled the judge.
Justice Makonese directed the Sheriff of the High Court to carry out evictions in the event that Tetra Heights fails to comply with the court order.
In his founding affidavit deposed on behalf of Minister Shiri, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Mr Ringson John Chitsiko, said the disputed property belongs to the State.
“The property in dispute was formerly owned as one business entity together with the farm prior to acquisition of the farm by the State. Upon acquisition of the farm, my Ministry decided to excise the hotel and service station from the remainder of the farm with the intention of creating a separate business entity which would be leased off to qualifying tenants who intended to utilise the same for business purposes,” he said.
Mr Chitsiko said the remainder portion of the farm was left out to a qualifying indigenous beneficiary to continue with the agricultural business.
In an effort to find a suitable tenant for the hotel and service station, the Ministry flighted an invitation to tender for the lease of the properties.
Tetra Heights was one of the companies that responded to the tender for the lease of the hotel and service station and its application was turned down.
In its submission, Tetra Heights argued that it was already in occupation of the hotel and service station through a lease granted to it by the former farm owner.
However, Mr Chitsiko argued that lease is not enforceable at law due to the fact that the farm is State land.
He said the former farmer had no authority to lease out State land. Mr Chitsiko said no one has power to occupy any portion of land which was acquired by the State without a written consent of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Resettlement.
“I submit that the property in dispute is acquired State land and is wholly administered by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement on behalf of the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. It is clear in this case that the respondent does not possess any consent in whatever form from the applicant to use, occupy and possess any portion of the property herewith. Accordingly, the applicant has locus standi and a legal right,” he said.
In February last year, Tetra Heights, through its lawyers Mutuso, Taruvinga and Mhiribidi Attorneys, filed a chamber application at the Bulawayo High Court seeking an order directing the Minister to suspend the notice ordering it to vacate Gwaai Halfway Hotel.
Tetra Heights also wanted Minister Shiri to be compelled to provide written reasons for rejecting its application to lease Gwaai Halfway Hotel.
The company argued that it has been in occupation of the premises since August 2016 with the blessing of former Lands Minister Douglas Mombeshora following the eviction of former owner, Mr Rob Sterling, as part of the land reform programme.
Tetra Heights said it was advised that they should possess the property until such a time that the Government of Zimbabwe would have nominated a new tenant to occupy the premises.
When Mr Sterling was removed from the farm, his employees continued running the hotel until the Government brought Tetra Heights.
Tetra Heights was on January 4 last year given a notice to vacate the premises.
Tetra Heights has since 2017 been locked in a legal wrangle with former workers who have invaded Gwaai Halfway House Hotel wanting to control the property.
Tetra Heights was allocated the farm by Dr Mombeshora, but has faced resistance from six former workers, who have seized part of the farm, including a hotel, kiosk, service station and a workers’ compound. The Chronicle