WHILE cabinet this week set up a taskforce to investigate dodgy land deals in local authorities and deal with land barons, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Local Government minister July Moyo are part of the problem – they are compromised by a messy secret land deal which they are irretrievably entangled in.
The deal gives millionaire Ken Sharpe’s Augur Investments unusual and illegal immunity from litigation on disputed vast tracks of land he acquired through the Airport Road construction project.
The NewsHawks in October last year exposed how Augur investments controversially acquired vast tracks of land around Harare as part payment for the construction of Airport Road, which the company failed to complete.
While City of Harare was trying to regain the land through the courts, Moyo, representing himself and Mnangagwa, signed a secret deal offering Augur and its associated companies, directors and representatives immunity from past, present and future litigation on the land from government, council and any third parties.
According to this week’s cabinet briefing, ministries, departments and agencies are to “work in concert in order to stem the tide of neglect and malpractices around illegal settlements. All those who broke the laws and by-laws on urban settlement will be brought to book without fear or favour”.
“The situation around illegal settlement has exposed irregularities and inadequacies in settlement siting, planning and management,” cabinet said.
Cabinet said the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and the Special Anti-Corruption Unit in Mnangagwa’s office will help to crackdown on land barons and dodgy land deals. Mnangagwa is entangled in Sharpe’s dodgy land deals, documents show.
While the government is blaming local authorities, it has been interfering with council operations and, in the case of Harare, it is blocking city fathers from regaining the land given to Augur as payment for the 20-kilometre project it failed to complete as had been agreed.
As a result of the immunity deal signed by Moyo, it was emphasised that the arrangement involving Mnangagwa and the minister must be treated with “utmost confidentiality”, documents show.
Moyo also gave Sharpe assurances that the local authority and government departments would expedite licences and permits in relation to his other land development projects across the city. Most of the land mentioned was however irregularly obtained through the airport deal, according to a 2010 Harare council audit report.
The agreement for the construction of the 20-kilometre Airport Road, also known as the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Expressway, which was not completed, was signed in 2008 between Harare City Council and Augur, although the project was later taken over by the government.
The land in dispute – stand 654 Pomona township (273.29 hectares) – has opened a Pandora’s Box, showing Mnangagwa and Moyo are deeply involved. The title deed for the land was held in escrow by Coghlan, Welsh and Guest Legal Practitioners at the time of the secret agreement.
A company subcontracted by Augur for civil works on road project – Trucking and Construction (T&C) Private Limited – is claiming the land in a bid to recover its US$4.8 million for services and equipment provided. Before the dodgy agreement, signed on 28 May 2019, the City of Harare was also involved in legal battles with Augur to get back land it had given the company as payment. The city wanted the land back, arguing Augur failed to complete the project as agreed.
Augur in July 2019 filed an urgent court application for stay of execution on a court ruling in favour of T&C. It claimed the land could not be seized by T&C as it was registered in Mnangagwa’s name.
“The writ of execution itself was not served on the correct domicilium citandi et executandi(address for legal issues) of Augur. Instead the writ was simply dropped at the gate to immovable property which T&C seeks to attach, which property to date of this application remains in the name of the President of Zimbabwe,” the application reads.
“Further, the immovable property that T&C wishes to attach in execution is registered in the name of the President of Zimbabwe and no consent has been sought from the President for the attachment of such property.”
Stand 654 Pomona was Augur’s security as well as for payment for future work and equipment hired for the contract between T&C and Augur for the project.
Augur also got favours for more land in Harare under what the agreement termed “in the spirit of Zimbabwe being open for business and to support Augur in its continued investments”.
The land included Pokugara Properties Private Limited (stand 19828 Harare Township), Electro Properties Private Limited (stand 19673 Harare Township), Express Properties Private Limited (stand 19674 Harare Township), Volin Property Company Private Limited (stand 144 Northwood, Yellow Seat Properties Private Limited (stand 19345 Harare Township), Seatrite properties Private Limited (stand 1989 Harare Township).
Other projects which received favours under the agreement are the Mbudzi People’s Market, Warren Hills Residential and Commercial Development and Mukuvisi development.
Cabinet said land barons have been working in cahoots with corrupt state and municipal officers and fleecing unsuspecting home-seekers and task teams would correct the situation by instituting several strategies including mapping of wetlands and other ecologically sensitive spaces at growth points, in towns, cities and peri-urban areas.
“The exercise shall be expanded to cover the whole country in order to draw up a National Masterplan of all ecologically sensitive spaces on which human settlements and related developments shall not take place. A National Wetlands Policy and Guidelines is being formulated in order to protect the environment for sustainable development,” cabinet agreed.
The taskforce will also identify and qualify settlements in floodprone areas and identify land for relocation.
It will also streamline operations of co-operatives, “including through de-registering all co-operatives which were captured by land barons but ensuring that innocent co-operatives and bona fide home-seekers are not unduly victimised”.
“Implementation of these directives will be spearheaded by the enhanced Cabinet Committee on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Management which will be chaired by the Honourable Vice President Constantino Chiwenga,” the cabinet minutes read.
Cabinet also declared a state of disaster on the country’s roads to expedite rehabilitation.