Africa

Mugabe's nephew in land dispute

Kudzai Mashininga

Phillip Chiyangwa says residents' claim of state ownership of the property is a payment dodge.

The businessman's company says it can prove that it owns a disputed farm. (Shepherd Tozvireva)

Flamboyant businessman Phillip Chiyangwa is embroiled in a land ­dispute involving accusations that he is selling residential stands on a farm that belongs to the state, an accusation he denies.

Some residents who bought stands at Stoneridge Farm in Harare are now resisting paying monthly instalments to Pinnacle Properties, owned by Chiyangwa, arguing that the farm belongs to the government.

Chiyangwa is President Robert Mugabe's cousin.

Residents at the 586-hectare farm attempted to hold a demonstration against Chiyangwa two weeks ago at Zanu-PF headquarters, but were directed to protest at the party's Harare provincial headquarters, where they held placards denouncing the businessman.

They said they wanted Zanu-PF to protect them from Chiyangwa's threats to evict them for defaulting on their instalments, arguing that he did not have any claim to the property.

Eviction notices
Last month, Pinnacle Properties issued eviction notices to nearly 1 500 people at Stoneridge farm following their decision to stop monthly payments towards the purchase of the properties because they had discovered that the land belonged to the state.

"The following defaulting persons are hereby notified of the ­cancellation of their agreements," the company said in an advertisement in a local daily, before listing the names of the affected individuals.

"You have seven days to vacate the properties. These listed stands are now available for purchase."

Those listed have now engaged prominent Harare lawyer Fred Gijima to fight the eviction.

In an interview on April 9, Gijima confirmed that his clients were claiming that the land belonged to the state. He said Stoneridge farm was compulsorily acquired in 2004 for agricultural purposes and in 2010 was turned over to urban expansion.

Gijima said they had entered a notice for an appearance to fight their evictions in court.

"There is an administration court judgment confirming that the acquisition of the land by the state was above board. I have the court order," he said.

Gijima said they were also trying to resolve the matter out of court, as it was clear that the land in question belonged to the state.

Confusion
But, in an emailed response, Pinnacle Properties chief executive Edmund Chiyangwa, who is Phillip Chiyangwa's son, said there was confusion surrounding the name Stoneridge, as there were several properties in that area that were significant to the dispute, namely Remainder of Stoneridge; Subdivision A of Stoneridge; Odar Farm; and Nyarungu Estate.

Chiyangwa said that although it was true that three of the properties Subdivision A of Stoneridge, Odar Farm, and Nyarungu Estate, had been acquired by the state, the Remainder of Stoneridge, which is owned by Sensene Investments, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pinnacle Property Holdings, had never been listed for acquisition by the state and there was a letter of no interest from the authorities.

Chiyangwa said Pinnacle Properties consented in the Supreme Court to the government's acquisition of Subdivision A of Stoneridge, Odar farm and Nyarungu estate.

He said the company supported the government's initiative to redistribute land and Pinnacle Properties was expecting full compensation for those three properties from the government in accordance with the government's own policy that all urban land acquired by the state would be fully compensated.

He said Pinnacle was selling stands only on the Remainder of Stoneridge, as it belonged to Pinnacle, and it was operating within its rights in selling stands on a property that Pinnacle had bought from a financial institution by cash sale in 2007.

Chiyangwa said there had never been any court action over Remainder of Stoneridge.

"Whoever is claiming that Remainder of Stoneridge belongs to the state is grossly misguided.

"In fact, it is a ploy being used by certain individuals bent on creating confusion.

"Some of these people who have been marked for eviction have failed to pay for their stands and have fallen into huge arrears, and have now resorted to other ways of trying to continue holding on to the stands.

"We have various schemes on offer which give homeseekers options to pay for their stands by paying in cash in full, or via terms which span from six months to 25 years."

Chiyangwa claimed that, since the publication of eviction notices in the press, more than half of those in default had paid, and some had made plans to liquidate their assets.

He said the company had instituted legal proceedings to evict the defaulters, who he said were "few".

"The cancellation of an agreement of sale is governed by the provisions in the agreement of sale. It is a process that is legal and goes through courts of law in order to be effected," Chiyangwa said.

"We refuse to be taken advantage of by people trying to get land for free. No land is free. You want land, you pay. If you do not want to pay, then we [will] sell it to someone else."

But Gijima insisted that he would prove that the land belonged to the state.

Although some residents were still making monthly payments to Chiyangwa's company, it was owed to ignorance of the fact that the land belonged to the state.

Claim of victimisation
An affected Stoneridge resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Chiyangwa was victimising them, sometimes disturbing residents' meetings aimed at rallying other standholders to defy his demand that they should continue to pay.

The resident said that there were standholders who had paid for the stands in full, but Pinnacle had failed to give them title deeds.

Each resident, he said, was required to pay varying monthly amounts, ranging from $25 to $150, to Chiyangwa's company.

A visit to Stoneridge last weekend revealed that the residential area lacked basic amenities and services. There were no toilet facilities, running water or electricity. Residents have mostly dug wells and boreholes at their homes. The roads are not tarred, and there are no schools or health facilities.

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