HARARE – Zimbabwe’s first Education minister, Dr Dzingai Mutumbuka, recently revealed that he almost lost his house, valued at US$600,000, to an organised syndicate of thieves operating in collaboration with the Deeds Registry Office and the judiciary.
This shocking revelation highlights the pervasive nature of corruption in Zimbabwe and the vulnerability of property owners to fraudulent activities.
Mutumbuka, who served as the Minister of Education and Culture from 1980 to 1988, and later held senior management positions at the World Bank, has been embroiled in a legal battle to reclaim his property for the past two years.
The case began when two individuals, Prosper Biziweck and Tatenda “Shaft” Wakatama, appeared in court facing forgery charges. It was alleged that they produced fake documents and sold Mutumbuka’s house, working in conjunction with accomplices and officials from the Deeds Registry offices.
The fraudsters managed to sell Mutumbuka’s house to Harrison Marange for a mere US$140,000, significantly below its actual value. Shockingly, High Court Justice Webster Chinamora, who has since resigned under a cloud of corruption charges, granted an order for Mutumbuka to vacate his own property.
Fortunately, Mutumbuka acted swiftly and appealed to the Supreme Court, and he is confident that he will ultimately recover the stolen title to his property. He says he has also raised concerns about rampant corruption in Zimbabwe during discussions with President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mutumbuka emphasised that while prominent individuals may have some safeguard against corruption, ordinary citizens, particularly the poor, remain vulnerable to such nefarious activities.
Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono says the case serves as a warning and a grim reminder of the dangers posed by a corrupt system aided by collusion between fraudsters and state officials. It not only jeopardises the rights and investments of property owners but also undermines confidence in the country’s legal and justice systems. He says the incident carries implications beyond Mutumbuka’s personal experience, as it highlights the risks faced by Zimbabweans in the diaspora and potential international investors.
A sophisticated network of criminals is reportedly running rings around unsuspecting property buyers by fraudulently selling them abandoned properties whose owners cannot be readily traced either because they have relocated or died.
Victims of the elaborate schemes are surprisingly not reporting their cases to the police.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail Society reveal that the syndicate is made up of bogus estate agents, lawyers, corrupt police officers and officials from the Deeds Registry.
The fraudsters first identify abandoned properties, especially in upmarket suburbs such as Borrowdale, Glen Lorne, Mandara, Highlands, Chisipite, whose owners have either died or moved to the Diaspora.
However, for the transaction to smoothly sail, the targeted properties should not have any known or traceable caretaker.
New title deeds are subsequently forged to help sell to unsuspecting buyers.
Some of the properties have been sold multiple times to different buyers in a very short period.
Sometimes, the fraudsters vanish after being paid a deposit.
“I saw a house for sale in Highlands through a newspaper advert. I then engaged the seller, who told me the property was pegged at US$125 000 though it needed some renovations. I went and inspected the property, including the papers, following which I engaged my lawyers as I was convinced that everything was above board,” said one of the victims, who shared his story on condition of anonymity.
“I paid a deposit and the balance was to be settled after completing the paperwork. But, to my surprise, police officers claiming to be members of the CID (Highlands Police Station) visited my office accusing me of fraud a few days after.
“They demanded US$8 000 to sweep the case under the carpet. I was surprised how they knew about the transaction before it was even completed. I later realised that I was dealing with a syndicate.”
The suspected police came armed with original title deeds, which had a different name from the one he had been previously shown.
The victim tried contacting the seller, but the number was no longer reachable.
He panicked and paid the bribe.
“I saw the world crumbling in my face. They (police) convinced me that I had a case to answer and was most likely going to be arrested for being an accomplice. I gave them money to drop the case and they promised to help me recover my money, but they have since gone quiet and I am yet to get anything thus far,” he added.
Officer-in-charge of Highlands Police Station Severino Mashiri, under whose jurisdiction some of the implicated officers serve, said he was “not aware of these issues”.
“I cannot deny that there could be something happening; however, since the names of the implicated officers are available, they should be submitted to the Assistant Commissioner’s (Paul Nyathi) office for action to be taken,” he said.
Worryingly, there are similar cases happening around the country.
Early this month, two men appeared before a Harare magistrate facing forgery charges after they allegedly used fake documents to sell former Education Minister Dzingai Mutumbuka’s house in Chisipite.
The former minister is currently living abroad where he is undergoing treatment.
The duo — Prosper Biziweck and Tatenda Wakatama — reportedly worked with officials from the Deeds Registry to change the name on title deeds of the Chisipite house from Dzingai Mutumbuka to Jonah Ngome.
Ngome was alleged to have been in possession of a City of Harare tax invoice, which he used to try and authenticate the transaction.
Mr Manatsa Makore of Makore and Company, who is representing the supposed buyer of the ex-minister’s property, said the deal was now clouded in mystery.
“My client signed documents with Ngome. However, we are now told the property belongs to the former minister. Strangely, we have neither had any formal complaint coming through with regards to my client’s purchase nor do we know about any existing complaint. But, we note there are several individuals that have a keen interest in the property though they are not willing to come clean,” said Mr Makore.
“Police through the CID have been doing investigations and we are co-operating with them since we have nothing to hide. However, the deployment of a security company (Black Shark Protection Services) immediately after my client bought the property raised our suspicions since we did not engage them. The property was long abandoned.”
A former senior police officer only identified as Tambandini, who is said to be one of the directors of Black Shark Protection Services, is alleged to have power of attorney in the ex-minister’s property.
However, the security company’s managing director Mr Epmark Tome was not forthcoming with details.
In fact, he referred questions to his subordinate.
“I will refer you to our head of security Mr Chogugudza. However, I am not sure if he is able to share any information or not . . . I am not allowed to reveal our shareholders or partners by name(s),” said Mr Tome.
In an interview, Department of Deeds, Companies and Intellectual Property principal examiner Mr Absolom Magwere said there was an alarming increase in fake title deeds.
“This is a problem that we are currently dealing with. We are weeding out fake deeds. The culprits only edit the name of the property owner, leaving the other details of the original documents unchanged,” said Mr Magwere.
“However, we are making frantic efforts to address the crisis that apparently is getting out of hand. Cases are coming through. More needs to be done to restore sanity.”
The principal examiner could not rule out the involvement of some officials in the department.
There might be need to re-look Section 9 of the Deeds Registries Act, which gives the public access to title deeds and make photocopies, he added.
“This provision was largely made for banks and companies, but criminals are also taking advantage. Unfortunately, we are unable to control them without re-looking into the provision.
“To curb these issues, we are also migrating from manual files to being fully digital to limit access and we have also tightened our security to scrutinise movements.”
He said the public must follow proper procedures in purchasing properties to avoid being duped. Part of the procedure involve cross-checking availed documents with the ones at the Deeds Office.
In Mutumbuka’s case, the title deeds were forged.
“On this particular case, the police came here to investigate and that is when we discovered that the culprits only changed the name, leaving every other detail as is,” said Mr Magwere. The house was sold for US$140 000.
It is believed that the Chisipite house had long been neglected.
This is yet another sad tale of property deal gone bad.