By Blessings Chidakwa
Then Cabinet minister Ignatius Chombo reportedly facilitated a deal whereby the daughter of the late former President Robert Mugabe, Mrs Bona Nyepudzai Mutsahuni, and her husband, Mr Simbarashe Mutsahuni, bought 20 hectares of Hellensvale land zoned for recreation for a paltry US$2 300, prejudicing Harare City Council of millions of dollars and flying in the face of town planning regulations.
The city council reportedly was paid US$2 300, but the market price of 20ha of land in Hellensvale ranges from US$4,5 million to US$7,2 million.
Seeff Properties, a real estate agent, last week was selling a 0,5ha stand in Hellensvale for US$180 000, which translates to US$7,2 million for 20ha, while Kennan Properties was selling 0,4ha in the same area for US$90 000, which translates to US$4,5 million for 20ha.
While Helensvale was part of the huge Borrowdale Estate staked out by three officers of Cecil Rhodes’ occupation column, and so was developed privately, town planning law insists that private land owners developing a new suburb must hand over for free around 20 percent for education, recreational, or other public uses.
While development of Helensvale started before the end of the 1960s when Harare City Council absorbed its outer ring of suburbs, the city council would have inherited ownership of the public use slice of Helensvale at that time.
The basic allegations compiled by city investigators are that Chombo, when he was Local Government Minister had the land rezoned to private use, so it could be sold, then arranged it to be sold for a mere US$2 300 for a company called Chordac Investments (Private) Limited, which was fronted at that time by two senior ministry officials but which is a vehicle owned by Mr and Mrs Mutsahuni.
In fact the rezoning was still in progress when the sale went through three days before the redesignation was finalised. The redesignation had to be approved by the Local Government Minister, but that was Chombo.
A land audit report compiled by Harare City Council’s special investigations committee chaired by Councillor Warship Dumba accused Chombo of allocating himself Stand 61 Hellensvale measuring 20ha for US$2 300.
But investigations by The Herald found that the property is owned by Chordac Investments, with the two directors listed in the Companies’ Registry office being Mrs Bona and Mr Simbarashe Mutsahuni (also known as Chikore).
The Special Investigations Committee’s report noted the anomalies in the way the stand was purchased.
“The land was sold to Minister Chombo without following town planning procedures whereby change of land use was approved on March 28, 2008, after he had already bought the stand on March 25, 2008,” reads part of the report.
While Chombo’s name does not appear on Chordac Investments’ CR14 Form, his close ally Mr Nelson Mhandu, who was a deputy director in the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, was one of the founding directors along with Ms Natsai Jaiwa, who was a principal administration officer in the same ministry during Chombo’s tenure.
However, according to the company’s official documents, Mr Mhandu and Ms Jaiwa resigned as directors of the company on the same day, 11 November 2015, leaving Mr and Mrs Mutsahuni-Chikore as the directors.
Mr Mutsahuni refused to comment on the issue, referring all questions to his lawyer Mr Jonathan Samukange of Venturas and Samukange Legal Practitioners.
“We don’t comment on such issues. Just write what you want. We don’t care,” he said.
Mr Samukange responded as follows: “We do not know anything about that property. We also do not know anything about that company (Chodac Investments),” said Mr Samukange.
According to the special report covering land transactions carried out between October 2004 and December 2009, Chombo also stands accused of violating the city’s policy on multiple property ownership as well as pressing council officials to apply to him for a change of land use and then press them to sell the land to him.
The report said contrary to the council policy that an individual must not get more than one residential property from council, the minister acquired vast tracts of public-owned land within greater Harare and registered them in companies associated with him.
A private person can buy as many privately owned stands as they like, but for many decades the council has had a policy of only selling council residential stands to those who own no other city housing, or in later years to those moving upmarket and willing to sell the downmarket stand.
“It remains disturbing to note that the minister (Chombo) would identify pieces of land in the city, influence council officials to apply to him (Chombo) for change of land use, and then sit over the same applications and approve the changes.
“He would then write to council officials asking to buy the same stands and obviously get them.
“Land reserved for recreational activities would end up having title deeds in his company’s name. A case in point is Stand 61 Hellensvale, Harare, measuring almost 20 hectares. According to the advice of payment the minister paid $2 300 for this stand,” reads the report.
According to the special report, the investigations carried out proved beyond doubt that Chombo abused his powers in many instances by verbally giving instructions to council on land issues.
It said Chombo’s actions flouted the then Section 313 of the Urban Councils Act of 1996 which entailed that the minister could give directives of a “general character” as to the policy council is to observe in the exercise of its functions as appear to the minister to be requisite in the national interest.
“General character” would exclude directives dealing with single stands.
The Act further states that “where the minister considers that it might be desirable to give any directives . . . he shall inform the council concerned in writing of his proposal and council shall, within 30 days or such further period as the minister may allow, submit to the minister, in writing, its views on the proposal and the possible implications on the finances and other resources of the council”.
The act further states that the council shall, with all due expedition, comply with any directives given to it in terms of the Section 313 of the Urban Councils Act.
There were also clear recommendations ignored from the report that the council should repossess Stand 61 Hellensvale because it was acquired irregularly.
Other recommendations were that there was conflict of interest on the part of Chombo and the stand should revert to its Town Planning Scheme purposes and remain an open space for recreational purposes.
Chombo was recently arrested by the Special Anti-Corruption Unit (SACU) in connection with the Uchena Land Commission Report, which alleges various charges of fraud and criminal abuse of office from his tenure as Minister of Local Government from 2000 to 2015.
He is currently out on bail. The Herald