BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
THE family of late national hero and Cabinet minister Perrance Shiri has questioned the authenticity of documents used by the Master of the High Court Eldard Mutasa to handle his vast empire.
A decorated national hero and ex-Air Force of Zimbabwe commander, Shiri became Agriculture minister soon after President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over in a November 2017 coup and served in that capacity until he succumbed to COVID-19 on July 29 last year.
Some of his children have, through their lawyers, written to Mutasa on several occasions, arguing that the estate administration documents were not authentic.
Shiri’s estate beneficiaries also challenged Mutasa’s appointment of former Attorney-General Sobusa Gula-Ndebele as executor when the late Agriculture minister had a family trust with its own executor.
They claimed that Gula-Ndebele had shown bias in executing the estate as he had un-procedurally given authority to undeserving relatives to use Shiri’s property, namely his nephew Bornwell Chitanda who is now staying at the deceased’s property in Borrowdale after moving out of his Hatcliffe home to occupy the house which had key documents and family safes.
But Chitanda yesterday said: “I was asked to stay at the late minister’s house because there was no relative staying with him at the time of his death. I am just looking after the property. I know nothing about the late minister’s documents to do with his estate. I wouldn’t concern myself with his estate because I am not a beneficiary anyway.”
The matter is now being investigated by police under reference ER5/2021 with the hope that the estate does not fall into wrong hands.
Shiri’s children argued that Mutasa had used a 1995 will, which the late minister had disregarded after registering a family trust with one of his children Rufaro Stephanie Shiri as executor, but who some family members are allegedly wanting to muscle out.
According to documents seen by NewsDay, the late Agriculture minister’s children, Rufaro Stephanie reportedly with the support from sisters Tatenda and Cynthia, accused the Master’s office of using fraudulent documents to deprive them of their inheritance.
“The estate issue has ceased to be a family issue as portrayed to the public and government. People are using government letterheads and offices to execute their fraudulent activities. Mr Gula-Ndebele was appointed executor both dative and testamentary, was the Master’s Office confused on what role to give to him since the family trust has its own executor? His (Mutasa) letter appointing him as administrator was stamped on August 20, 2020, but signed on August 21. Was the stamp stolen on the 20th and someone who was not supposed to sign signed his letters of administration,” Stephanie queried.
The children also questioned the addition of other individuals to benefit from the estate among them Tawanda Zulu and Tanaka Stephanie Shiri who they claimed her real name was Tanaka Musvamhiri, yet they were allegedly not Shiri’s biological children. Zulu has been given Shiri’s farm under unclear circumstances through a letter reportedly signed by the late minister.
“After approaching the Agriculture ministry officials who had worked with our father they happened to confirm the offer letter existed and that the farm had been subdivided, but the question is if the farm was truly subdivided, and if the Agriculture minister chairs the committee for subdivision of farms. Why did he decide to write to himself stating he wanted his farm to be given to Tawanda Zulu, whom he had not given the name Shiri and (though) (he) had stayed with the family for 10 years. The letter can only be read over the phone and had been read on the phone with ministry officials requiring a family meeting to release the letter. No one has ever seen a hard copy of the letter, but what we can confirm is it’s on the ministry’s letterhead,” she said.
But Gula-Ndebele dismissed the allegations in heated exchanges with Stephanie and her sisters’ lawyers.
Shiri’s estate was registered on August 3, 2020 by his daughter Stephanie.
“If Mr Sobusa Gula-Ndebele knew he was an executor, why didn’t he register the estate? Under the laws and statues of Zimbabwe, a family meeting is done to appoint an executor and the decision lies among deceased’s spouse and/or children. Such a meeting was not done,” Stephanie said.
“The Master of High Court has records of all wills and trusts and it is his duty to scrutinise wills and approve if they can be used to administer one’s estate. The 1995 will in particular, has the following grey areas: (for instance) the marital clause states that: In the event of death of any of my daughters, her inheritance will go to her children. If the daughter has no children at the time of her death, her share of the inheritance will be shared equally among her.”
She added: “The clause eliminates Mr Titus Takudzwa Chikerema Shiri. I believe when the will was registered in 1995 according to the document we have only three children listed. Titus being one of them! How could he have been included in one clause and eliminated in the marital clause. How did the deceased know that Titus would not be able to marry and would not die, but the daughters would die and clearly states their children were to benefit and or siblings if there were no children?
“Today, Titus is no more, he died in 2013, he had been allocated a house in the will, had no children, what is going to happen to that house since the will eliminated him in the marital clause? The clauses also suggest that he no longer has male children which people could have derived from the trust and the reason why Titus was eliminated in the new documents is because he doesn’t exist, he died in 2013.”
Stephanie confirmed that Gula-Ndebele was once Shiri’s lawyer, but argued that as an interested party, he should not have drafted and executed the will.
“Witness names are not there, only signatures present, no names with ID numbers. At the time of my father’s death, Sobusa Gula-Ndebele was no longer his lawyer.”
She added that the documents provided to Gula-Ndebele as executor had many disparities.
“The document Acceptance of Trust as Executor MHC 11 on the top left part is printed by Printflow (Private) Limited and the signature used to sign that document is not Sobusa Gula-Ndebele’s.
“The bond of security for the issue of letters of administration to executor also on the top left part is printed by Printflow (Private Limited) on the top right reference number 63911-0 MHC 52 333 (J). Letter of administration is on the other hand printed by the Government Printer, Harare M.H.C.16,” she said, adding that the bond of security document and letters of administration did not have the Master’s signature and stamp.
She also argued that there were two copies of letters of administration — the one with the government emblem date-stamped on August 20, 2020 and deemed to have been signed by one D Gutu (for the Master of High Court) on August 21, 2020.
“These are to certify that ……. (But) how do they certify that he (Gula-Ndebele) has a letter of administration with no official stamp or signature from the Master. This letter was only issued on the 29th of August 2020, while the one with the government emblem was issued on the 21st of August 2020, weren’t they supposed to be done on one day? The letter to certify him as executor has no stamp and no signatures,” Stephanie questioned.
She added that according to every document provided, Gula-Ndebele was appointed executor dative and testamentary.
“Executor dative is an executor that is appointed by the Master of the High Court where the deceased died without a will (intestate and/or real executor doesn’t wish to accept the appointment). So on whose behalf was he being appointed executor testamentary on executor nominated by will?” Stephanie asked.
Documents show that Shiri in 1995 appointed Gula-Ndebele as executor of his will and administrator of his estate together with late General Solomon Mujuru in the event that Gula-Ndebele would have failed to perform his duty properly. But Mujuru died in 2011 in a mysterious inferno at his Beatrice farmhouse.
In the will, Shiri bequeathed 50% of his bank savings, insurance policies to his now late son Titus and the other half of savings to his children Tatenda and Cynthia Shiri, and all his other children who were yet to be born and to come.
A death notice filed at the Master’s Offices indicated that three more children Tawanda (adopted son who stayed with his family for 10 years before he reportedly moved out), Stephanie and Tanaka were also listed as beneficiaries of Shiri’s estate.
“So this implies even those that Gula-Ndebele would want to include can only benefit from the savings and nothing else which then nullifies his distribution account which allocates shares to Tawanda Zulu and Tanaka Musvamhiri also in the overall estate distribution,” Stephanie argues.
Yesterday, Tanaka responded: “I do not dispute the documents that are being used by the Master of the High Court. I accept them as authentic. I can’t comment further, but I insist that I am the late minister’s daughter and I have proof to that effect.”
Zulu said: “I can’t comment on the matter. Those who are making claims on the authenticity of the documents are better placed to answer your questions.”
On April 12, 2021, Stephanie wrote to Mutasa requesting to be appointed as executrix dative of her father’s estate, since Gula-Ndebele as the executor testamentary had allegedly failed to register the estate following her father’s death.
On May 17, 2021, she wrote another letter requesting for the removal of Gula-Ndebele as the executor of Shiri’s estate, accusing him of neglecting his duties.
She also accused the executor of a litany of issues including failing to register the estate, read the will on time and to urgently address important issues for estate administration.
Stephanie recommended her lawyer to be appointed as executor of the late Shiri’s properties, in place of Gula-Ndebele and implored Mutasa to carry out investigations on suspected fraudulent acts on her father’s estate.
“Sometime in December 2020, the executor refused me the right to legal representation, violating my constitutional right to legal representation by a lawyer of my choice,” she stated in the letter.
“This is why my lawyers have been writing directly to the Office of the Master of the High Court because the executor refused them the opportunity to represent me. I, therefore, now appeal to your high offices as the Master of the High Court to remove the executor from office in terms of section 116 of the Administration of Estates Act (Chapter 6:01).”
She asked Mutasa to convene a meeting of the beneficiaries, with two sisters, Cynthia and Tatenda to appoint an executor.
But, Mutasa in response stated that there was no need for a meeting to deliberate on the dictates of section 116 of the Administration of Estates Act.
“We note that Ms Rufaro filed an objection to the account, which the executor has already filed. The estate appears to us to be almost finalised,” Mutasa said in a May 17, 2021, letter.
“What remains is to address the issues you raised as the basis for your objection to the account which we have forwarded to the executor and now awaits his responses before the office takes a position.
“On the issue of registration of the estate, please note that any of the interested parties connected to the deceased could have registered the estate and what Ms Rufaro did was completely in order. There was no need to wait for the lawyers to attend to the registration.”
Yesterday, Mutasa said: “I am not allowed to comment to the media without authorisation from the Judicial Service Commission secretary. I have to seek his authority first.”
Stephanie questioned why the Master’s Office had failed to remove Gula-Ndebele as executor of the Shiri estate given Shiri’s children’s misgivings over how the estate was being handled.
“We, therefore, appeal to the leadership of this country to see to it that those involved in these shenanigans are brought to book. This poses a serious security threat to us as beneficiaries if it’s not addressed urgently. We believe we still have a lot to benefit from our father’s colleagues, but there are people who would want to taint them for no reason. All culprits should be brought to book,” Stephanie said.
Gula-Ndebele was recently at the centre of a messy wrangle which erupted over the distribution of another hero’s estate which includes several houses, a farm, residential stands and cash.
Follow Miriam on Twitter @FloMangwaya