School land grab

Grace Mugabe’s name has been mentioned in connection with the acquisition of a piece of land belonging to a private school in Harare’s leafy suburb of Borrowdale.

An investigation by The Zimbabwean has unearthed shadowy land dealings involving a 23 hectares stand in Borrowdale, donated to Eaglesvale High School by the Dutch Reformed Church almost 32 years ago.

Insiders said the land was wanted by the First family to build a private school, but they had met with resistance in trying to prise the stand from the Dutch Reformed Church that bought it in the early 1980s.

Members of the school’s board of directors told The Zimbabwean that the issue was delicate because it involved “very important people”. It was not possible to get an official comment as no-one was prepared to speak on record.

“We have high respect for the country’s leadership and it is only fair that we do not speak about it. The mother of the nation wants it and you do not fight such people. If we get an alternative we will move – or if they give us compensation. What they want to use it for is not our problem,” said one board member.

“First it was Didymus Mutasa (then State Security minister), then Ignatius Chombo (Local government) and now Herbert Murerwa (Lands). All these have made concerted efforts to take away the stand under the guise of land reform – in the heart of the capital and a few hundred metres from the President’s residence,” said another on condition of anonymity.

The school is currently situated in Willowvale industrial area on a stand belonging to the National Railways of Zimbabwe and had intended to move to its new premises in Borrowdale.

A plethora of documents gleaned show that efforts to compulsorily acquire the 21,000-hectare stand began in August 2006 when Mutasa, then minister of State for National Security, Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement in the President’s office, published a notice under the Land Acquisition Act saying “the President intends to acquire compulsorily the land described in the schedule for urban expansion.”

The ministry of Local Government then waded into the storm through a letter written to the church by one L. Chimba on behalf of the ministry’s permanent secretary in May 2008, saying : “We hereby advise that the government of Zimbabwe is proceeding through compulsory acquisition for public use.”

The church’s lawyers, Chihambakwe and Partners, objected, arguing the reasons raised for the need to acquire the land were vague. “The property was donated to the school by the church and building their school on their own piece of land provides them with security of tenure and continuity,” they said.

In response on November 7, 2007, Chombo argued the government wanted to use the land for “State purposes” . The school’s lawyers charged that reason had been changed to being for “public use.”

“With the greatest respect the land is already within the boundary of an urban area hence the need to expand does not arise, while the government’s reason of public use coincides with that of the board because they intend to build a school,” says a May 2008 letter.

Sources privy to the goings on said Chombo initially told the Church’s Trustees that government wanted the land to build a war museum but later opened up and said Mugabe wanted it.

“We do not want any trouble they have taken the land and we have accepted this as reality. Our hope is they will pay us for the value of the land. The school is currently renting from the railways and because the land government offered was taken away the best we expect is compensation for the stand,” said a member of the church’s Board of Governors.

Some businesses operating on the stand have been ordered to leave. A car dealer who was leasing from the church has been offered an alternative stand in Chisipite along Arcturus Road, but some tyre-repairing entrepreneurs were not so lucky and are now operating under a tree just outside the fence.

Although not identified officially as the owners, the First family is believed to have erected a $135/metre palisade fence around the stand, despite an advertisement on June 29 requesting objections to the compulsory acquisition. Sources said the Mugabes had been seen on site at least three times this year.

Despite the notice coming from his ministry Chombo denied any knowledge of the stand or its owners. “I do not know the stand you are talking about, I have no idea. Find the owners,” Chombo said.

To add to the mystery a sales representative with National Fencing said the stand belonged to the Ministry of National Housing under outgoing MDC-T minister Giles Mutsekwa, who denied his ministry is involved in any way.

“I know the place you are talking about but my ministry is in no way associated with that stand. I do not know what the fencing guys are talking about,” said Mutsekwa.

A source from the ministry of local government said the Car-dealer’s new stand in Chisipite was regularised two months ago, with the dealer now waiting for licenses from the city council.

However, outgoing Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda professed ignorance on the issue.

“I will have to look into the veracity of or otherwise of the allegation (the First Family had taken over the stand) and revert to you accordingly,” said Masunda.

Mutasa was evasive when contacted for comment. “Who told you it is my signature on those papers? Anybody can scribble a signature and say it’s Mutasa’s. I need to see what you have and then I can comment,” said Mutasa.

When this reporter agreed to show him the papers, Mutasa said: “Bring the papers to the Zanu (PF) office in Marondera.”

The permanent secretary for the lands ministry, Sophia Tsvakwi, referred questions to the director of resettlements, a Mr Ziro, who refused to comment. “You are a private publication? I am not there and not going to comment,” he said before hanging up.

Post published in: News
  1. Mike Davies

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