Epworth land wrangle hots up

The battle between the Methodist Church and Epworth Residents Development Association (ERDA) over control of Epworth Mission farms has intensified.

Jacob Chikodze one of the residents who bought a stand on disputed land.
Jacob Chikodze one of the residents who bought a stand on disputed land.

The area is made up of Epworth farm measuring 2,702 acres acquired in 1892 by the church as gift from the British South Africa Company, Glenwood farm (2,498 acres) acquired in 1904 by private purchase and Adelaide farm (3,969 acres) acquired in 1908 by private purchase.

ERDA Chairperson Elson Mungati said they were renewing the High Court case 5115 of 1996 in which the Methodist Church, Ministry of Local Government and Epworth Local Board are respondents.

“In 1983 the church unilaterally donated our private land to the state and retained a mere 181 hectares of Epworth Lot 2. The case is still pending and was parked after the church’s presiding Bishop, Farai Chirisa, decided to fly out of the country the day the court wanted to finalise the whole issue,” he said.

Church accused

Mungati alleges that the church manipulated title deeds of Epworth Mission farms after independence to suit its interests at the expense of the locals. Photocopied letters written in 1958 by the Methodist Church in Rhodesia to the then government, retrieved from the National Archives, read:

“The original Epworth people were living on the land before the occupation and were among the earliest Shona converts to Christianity. Its 500 tenants lease holders have held rights of occupation guaranteed in terms of Section 23 of the Land Apportionment Act, and negotiated under the supervision of the Native or District Commissioner.

“In the early days the people themselves co-operated in the purchase of Glenwood and Adelaide and the Methodist Church recognise that the long-established residents have a rightful stake in the enhanced value of such land in proximity to the city. We have always regarded Epworth Mission as land held in trust for the African citizens of Salisbury. We regard the annulment of that right as a very serious step indeed,” wrote the church.

Efforts to get comment from the Methodist Church Headquarters were fruitless as The Zimbabwean was referred to its lawyer Itayi Ndudzo who refused to comment over the issue. However, Mungati shot down claims by the church that it owns or ever owned title deeds of the whole Epworth area.

Rightful owners?

Meanwhile, over 200 desperate home seekers have been sold stands on the disputed land at the centre of United Theological College, Chiremba Road, Zimphos and Chiremba Shopping Centre by another group, led by Stanford Nyemba and others calling itself the Epworth Residents Development Trust. They purport to be the rightful owners of the land.

In 2012 the High Court interdicted the group after the Methodist Church distanced itself from the selling of stands that was taking place. Church receipts were being issued to buyers alleging that Nyemba, Ronald Kanengoni, Robert Chiota, Elvis Muzambwa and Mungati were behind the syndicate.

Mungati, who distanced himself from the development, was acquitted while Nyemba and company were interdicted from carrying out any development on the piece of land.

“Respondents be and are hereby interdicted from issuing any statements to the public with regard to the status of the piece of land called Lot 2 of Epworth, Salisbury District, Harare,” read the interim order granted under case HC 12726/11.

Lawyer Tendai Mberi of Hogwe Dzimirirai and Partners, who represented Mungati, confirmed that his client was found not guilty and acquitted.

However, Nyemba claimed that his group had won the court case and was now settling people on the ground. “We are the rightful owners of the land and we have since put Zanu (PF) party structures in the area for resettlement purposes. We are not selling any stands but just settling people,” he said. The suburb has since been named Westlea Park.

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