Harare North Housing Co-operatives Union chairperson and former Zanu PF aspiring MP Justice Zvandasara has been convicted of $4 million fraud after illegally selling residential stands to over 1 000 home seekers in Hatcliffe, Harare.
BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI/JOHN NYASHANU
It was established that Zvandasara had sold the land which belonged to Mutare South MP Nyasha Chikwinya (Zanu PF) and Jonathan Gapare.
This came as Chitungwiza residents yesterday expressed outrage at land barons who were allegedly selling unserviced pieces of land, public open spaces and wetlands to unsuspecting home seekers after a NewsDay exposé showed that Zanu PF activist Fraderick Mabamba had hundreds of commercial, industrial and residential stands he reportedly clandestinely acquired in the dormitory town while the majority wallowed in poverty.
Harare regional magistrate Themba Kuwanda convicted Zvandasara and his co-accused Tichaona Suruware after the State led overwhelming evidence against them while Blessing Sigareta was acquitted as no case was established against him.
Kuwanda will pass sentence onNovember 25.
Prosecutor Oliver Marwa suggested to the court in aggravation that the convicts should be slapped with “short and sharp” sentences as community service would not suffice because it would torch public anger.
“We propose a sentence that is short and sharp against them with the larger portion suspended on usual conditions. Community service will be too little and lead to public indignation. We propose a sentence of seven years in prison, four of which may be suspended on usual conditions,” he said.
Marwa said fraud was classified as a serious offence and the convicts took advantage of vulnerable people who valued residential property ownership “like Christians value their faith and the Bible”. He said the situation was worsened by the fact that the victims were people of humble means and survived on petty trade deals such as selling vegetables and literally survived from hand to mouth because of the state of the economy.
“The offence is a double-edged sword in the sense that the so–called illegal occupants on the complainant’s property suffered considerable prejudice,” he said.
In mitigation through their lawyer Tapson Dzvetero, the convicts, however, pleaded with the court to be lenient because the accused persons were first offenders, family men and had not accrued any financial gain from the offence.
“I believe the two accused persons have learnt a lesson already. The first accused suffered defeat in the same constituency. He did this with the hope of gaining political power and mileage,” he said.
The court heard during trial that Zvandasara’s union was unregistered and that Chikwinya is the director of property development firm, Pilgrims Rest Properties.
During the land reform programme, Chikwinya was allocated Pilgrims Rest Farm measuring 150 hectares before it was redemarcated into two where the other half was allocated to Mama Mafuyana Housing Co-operative.
Alternative land for Chikwinya’s company was also identified at Hatcliffe North Phase 2.
On June 21 last year, Chikwinya and the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development signed a memorandum of agreement allocating the land and transferring administration into her name. She started servicing the land, which she subdivided into low, medium and high-density stands under layout plan number HOE27.
In the first count, Zvandasara, who knew about the project, misrepresented to unsuspecting home seekers that he had lawfully acquired the same piece of land and sold 496 stands to home-seekers who immediately occupied the land.
In the second count, Gapare appeared as chairman of Alpha Developers, another property development company.
Gapare applied to government for a piece of land adjacent to that of Chikwinya. Using the same method, Zvandasara sold 324 stands prejudicing Gapare of $1 555 000.
In Chitungwiza, residents said Mabamba’s suspected huge number of properties ought to trigger anxiety on law enforcement.
Chitungwiza Residents’ Trust chairperson Marvellous Kumalo said: “People like Mabamba were councillors before MDC-T came into the picture and as a golden handshake, they were given large tracts of land. They acquired them as commercial stands, but came back to council and amended the land use resulting in them subdividing the properties into residential stands and made a lot of money.”
Another Chitungwiza resident, Brighton Mazhindu, said the law should take its course.
“If arrested, he (Mabamba) must face the music. That one person can get so much land in a town with 300 000 people on the housing waiting list points to corruption. However, I think as a way forward instead of demolishing houses, council should force him to service the stands and regularise everything. What we do not want is another Murambatsvina (Operation Restore Order of 2005),” Mazhindu said.
Marvellous Moyo, a housewife in Unit J, said: “One person cannot possess so much wealth. It shows something fishy took place. The haves will always prevail over the have-nots. Nevertheless, should houses built on his sites be demolished, Mabamba should compensate the victims.”
Housewife Patricia Mapuranga alleged that people on unapproved settlements were illegally accessing services like water and electricity.