Zanu PF bigwigs connive to suck last blood out of Chitungwiza

Chitungwiza Municipality

Acombination of weak controls by town managers, downright corruption and political patronage has seen Chitungwiza Town Council lose millions of dollars in uncollected revenue from hundreds of properties owned by the struggling local authority.

Chitungwiza has a giant portfolio of immovable property which includes crèches, beer halls, bars, butcheries and shops but a great many of them have been annexed and turned into private possessions by occupants who are being led by a of powerful individuals, an investigation has established.

According to a 2020 auditor general’s report on local authorities, most businesses operating from rented Chitungwiza Town Council properties were sitting on long expired lease agreements and also not paying rent.

The AG cited 24 sampled tenants by her office for some of the businesses, which did not pay rent for the year 2017 and the total amount billed was US$85 813.

The AG said “recovery of the amounts was doubtful”.

In addition, 41 properties occupied at the time had no lease agreements in place.

Some lease agreements had no lease amounts, lease period and the name of the lessee. A sample of six was noted.

The rot continues up to date amid claims that council is now powerless in the clutches of combative individuals ready to use their political connections to wad off any demands for rentals or attempts to evict them.

An investigation into the size and character of the plunder has unearthed some Zanu PF officials in Chitungwiza, former party councillors and ex-council top employees as topping the list of culprits.

These include Charamba Mlambo, Wilfred Gwekwete, Joshua Mabhiza, Ignatius “Mambo” Nyakwete, Margaret Dizah, and Lloyd Bhunu.

What is in-common with the lot is that they are all Zanu PF loyalists with some being former councillors and former top council employees.

Some tenants have partitioned council property and built tuck shops in them using unapproved plans and subletting the properties to small business operators out of whose rentals they are pocketing 100% without paying council its dues.

Most properties are in a state of dilapidation, presenting with collapsing roofs, broken windowpanes, broken perimeter walls and torn security fencing.

For example, Katanga Bar in St Marys, which is in the hands of Nyakwete, a former council employee, owes council $3 343 920.81 as at September 2022, according to database information availed to this reporter by council.

Nyakwete runs the property with no lease and has partitioned portions into illegal tuck-shops from whose tenants he religiously collects rentals for himself.

A tenant who refused to disclose his name said he pays US$200 in monthly rentals to the space baron.

Nyakwete, it emerged, is an ex-council employee who was offered the bar to rent in place of unpaid wages that accrued over years of his employment.

Mlambo operates Zengeza 5 beer hall, part of which he rents out to a car mechanics garage and a car park operator.

The property is a horrifying testimony of sheer neglect, presenting with a broken perimeter wall and clutter from car shells strewn all over the yard.

The former Zanu PF councillor for ward 7 was described during interviews with residents as a notorious land baron, who has amassed wealth through abuse of council properties.

The list of well-heeled defaulters is endless.

Margaret Dizah, another individual with strong Zanu PF links, runs Unit A creche whose premises and ground she lets out to three church organisations namely AFM, Citadel and Emmanuel Faith Apostolic Church linked to Prophet Makandiwa.

Overnight, the place operates as a car park.

In Unit L, former Zanu PF councillor Mabhiza, who died not too long ago, seized nearly three quarters of the council building which he also rented out and remains in the hands of his surviving family members.

The property has no lease agreement.

The so-called Mabhiza Complex comprises two bottle stores, two supermarkets and two butcheries.

Zengeza 3 Mini Bar is leased by Bhunu, a former Zanu PF councillor, central committee member and former credit controller at council.

Similarly, Nyatsime bar operated by Margaret Stephen under council account number 52511006010, owes $4 108 523.70  in unpaid rentals and now serves as a bar, car park, take away, car lubricants shop and a training space for karate in violation of the lease contract.

Zengeza Beer Hall owes $5 617 929.79.

Rentals have been reviewed quarterly, meaning that they were much lowerbefore.

Some of the properties were leased to former top employees as a compromise arrangement to relieve pressure of paying terminal benefits which council could hardly afford.

Through a Government Gazette, council in March 2020 opened its properties to fresh bids and went on to accept deposits from new tenants whose occupation was resisted by sitting tenants.

Some ward 10 residents under councillor Peter Clever Matiringe have since petitioned parliament to use its influence to help kick out occupants whose leases long expired.

Reached for comment, Mlambo distanced himself from accusations of not paying rent saying his Zengeza 5 bar is being leased by Branstone Motors and denies any business links to the cited company.

Dizah, who says she has for  more than 20 years has been using Unit A Creche, admitted she is running the property with a long expired lease.

Asked if the expired lease permitted her to sub-let the property, the elderly occupant shockingly said she never read the terms and conditions on the document.

She admitted that she is a Zanu PF loyalist, but denied using her position to violate conditions.

She pleaded with this journalist to spare her the embarrassment of being exposed for her misdemeanours.

“My dear, why would you want me to lose my crèche.

“I am aged 80 and have no other source of livelihood. I am a widow.

“Please do not be too hard on me. I am at a loss on how I can respond to some of your questions,” said Dizah, while claiming she gets between US$30 and $60 per month from congregations using the property every weekend.

Also reached by phone to comment on Katanga Bar he runs illegally, Nyakwete insisted on meeting this reporter physically.

“I want us to discuss the matter with you face to face,” he said.

But this journalist insisted on a phone interview after being advised beforehand  that the businessman is hostile.

The fiery former council employee did not answer any of the questions asked, but chose to issue threats while demanding to know who is allegedly using this reporter against him.

“I want to tell you that there is something you are up to. Stop being used by my enemies,”  he charged.

“You have no right to ask me over council issues. True, it is your own right to do your journalism work, but I will hunt for you also. Stop nagging me.”

Bhunu, the former Zanu PF central committee member and ex Chitungwiza council credit controller, who has been operating Zengeza Mini Bar since 2015, was more engaging.

It did not take any effort to elicit a confession from him. He said he has not paid council its dues in a long time and has no valid lease agreement either.

“I am a former council employee and the agreement was that we can opt out of our employment and council offers us outlets to run for a period of two years,” he said.

“Our lease agreements were later cancelled and we were instructed to renew them, which we did but council has not gotten back to is.”

Asked why he has abandoned his responsibility of paying rentals, Bhunu said, “We just came from the Covid-19 period and things are difficult for us.

“For a whole two years, l did not operate. Business was affected. I have only just resumed and l am committed to paying my rentals.”

He added, “It is not true that we are resisting evictions because we belong to Zanu PF.”

The businessman said maintaining the properties was for the account of council and if one repaired the property, council should reimburse them.

Gift Kurupati, secretary general of the Chitungwiza Progressive Residents Association blamed council managers for allowing politicians to capture the authority.

“Service delivery is being affected because the council properties are not generating any revenue to council the money is being pocketed by the few politicians,” he said.

Chitungwiza has only paid few months wages for its estimated 950 workers the whole of this year.

The town is a political hotspot.

The CCC dominated local authority remains powerless in the midst of the influential individuals doing what they choose over council property.

Chitungwiza deputy mayor Councillor Musa Makweza admitted partisan politics had gotten in the way of proper administration of the local authority.

“What is affecting the situation are politicians who are interfering with the process. There are some people who are untouchable,” he said.

Acting town clerk Evalista Machona, however, maintained a strong face in the midst of the crisis and denies council is under capture by politicians.

“We are acquiring the properties back. It’s just a question of time,” Machona said.

“I don’t think this connected to politics.

“It is simply a case of people who just do not want to leave those premises for their own selfish ends.

“We are just going to evict them through our lawyers.”

On the auditor general’s observation that the town’s administration was presiding over weak controls, Machona said, “We are trying by all means to make things work.

“It is just that we are dealing with human beings, who are just adamant and want to continue using those properties with expired leases.”

Some of the properties are being used as meeting points by Zanu PF, it emerged during investigations.

* This investigation was funded by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe

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