IN what has been described in court papers as a land “grand heist” — a large haul of loot — implicating President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a cabinet minister, the Harare City Council illegally transferred vast tracts of property almost equivalent to about 615 soccer fields to the President’s associate, businessman Kenneth (Ken) Sharpe’s Augur Investments and associated companies.
The dodgy affair puts Mnangagwa at the centre of land barons’ activities.
In two court applications filled at the High Court, the Homeless People’s Federation, Harare residents, a former councillor and a legislator are seeking to have the transfer of land reversed and the agreements between Harare City and Augur nullified.
They say the land deal was done illegally and corruptly through the Airport Road construction project that was never completed.
In the court applications, Mnangagwa is being sued together with Local government minister July Moyo, the Harare City Council, Augur, Sharpe, and other companies linked to Sharpe and their representatives.
The NewsHawks in its very first publication in October 2020 exposed how Mnangagwa and Moyo were entangled in a messy secret agreement that gives millionaire Sharpe’s Augur Investments unusual immunity from litigation on disputed huge tracts of land he acquired through the Airport Road construction project.
As payment of the project, Augur and the council’s joint venture company, Sunshine Development (Private) Limited, was supposed to get only 99 4197 hectares (ha), but ended up with 239 3923ha valued at US$45.4 million, according to court papers.
Augur then got a further 273.29ha, which Moyo, acting on behalf of the state, undertook to immediately withdraw all and any criminal cases against Augur, its associated companies, representatives and its directors. This is illegal, court papers say.
Council had been in court trying to recover its land, but Augur entered into the secret deal with Mnangagwa and Moyo for immunity. Under the deal, the local authority and government departments were instructed to expedite licences and permits in relation to his other land development projects across the city.
Some of the land was acquired during former Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo’s tenure, but Mnangagwa and Moyo moved to protect Augur Investment to ensure the company keeps the irregularly acquired property.
The NewsHawks visited a few sites where Augur acquired land, including Gunhill Rise, which covers the area behind Borrowdale Racecourse and Pockets Hill up to Enterprise Road.
The other land is where the Mall of Zimbabwe was supposed to be constructed, just after Dandaro Village to Teviotdale and also covering the land from Borrowdale Road to Alpes where Pokugara is located.
The biggest piece of land, stand 654 Pomona, measuring 273.29ha, stretches from Harare Drive to close to the Pomona dumpsite.
Augur got the land and favours from the government despite having failed to complete the 20-kilometre Airport Road, also known as the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Expressway, which was later taken over by the government.
The contract for the project was signed in 2008 between Harare City Council and Augur. The Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation said its members’ chances of getting land to build homes were being limited by the alleged corrupt parcelling out of land to Sharpe who was now selling it at unaffordable prices.
They are seeking a cancellation of the deeds of transfer of the land to Sunshine Development (Private) Limited, a joint venture company (JVC) formed by former town clerk Tendai Mahachi purportedly representing City of Harare and Augur Investments, so that the land can benefit the desperate home-seeking poor population.
According to the court papers, the illegal agreements and transfer of land were necessitated by the “greed” of Mahachi and the embattled Chombo working with Sharpe through his company Augur Investments.
Sunshine Development has not paid a cent towards the land, 14 years later, but is instead selling the stands at an inflated price against the purported agreements of the JVC.
Mahachi agreed to be a 30% shareholder with a partner that promised to invest US$30 million, but has put nothing to date.
Furthermore, the application argues Augur should not have been involved in the project as it does not have an investment certificate, which is required before a foreign company can invest in Zimbabwe.
Court papers show that on 22 June 2007 Harare City Council represented by Mahachi and the chairperson of the government-appointed commission that was then running it, Sekesayi Makwavarara, entered into a memorandum of understanding with Augur Investments, which was referred in the documents as Augur Limited back then. It is alleged that Augur Limited was a non-existent company.
The parties agreed they would form a JVC with the intention that it would build middle-income houses and a hotel at Mabelreign Golf Course, develop a commercial centre at Hopely and Mukuvisi Phase One incorporating Airport Road.
They also agreed that the JVC would obtain regulatory approval licences and consent to implement the project. It was also supposed to acquire necessary land for the houses, oversee employment issues, procure raw materials, funding, market sales and confer the houses, among other tasks.
The JVC was only to receive 99.4197ha of land allocated from three primary sites, including Warren Park, Hopley (Mbudzi) and Mukuvisi Arcadia.
Court papers further show that additional land was allocated outside the agreement, without proper valuation and not in line with the Urban Councils Act. Also, Sunshine Development failed to honour the agreement by failing to inject US$30 million into the project.
It failed to use this loan agreement for the purposes of developing the land as planned.
“More than that, instead of developing the land, Sunshine Development (Private) Limited will effectively become a land baron selling and allocating part of the property that ought to be developed,” read court papers.
The Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation is seeking a declaratory order to the effect that the shareholders’ agreement and indeed the agreement itself were null and void from the very beginning.
It is also seeking cancellation of all the deeds of transfer of the land to Sunshine Development (Private) Limited.
Further, it complained that those who signed and executed the memorandum of agreement and the shareholders’ agreement had no authority from the city of Harare to do so.
“At no stage has the City of Harare ever ratified or authorised the agreement. Augur Investments, being a foreign investor, lacked the requisite approvals and compliance with Zimbabwe investment laws. The Agreement and the Shareholders Agreement, being a form of procurement, was done in breach of the country’s procurement laws. In other words, the City of Harare breached its obligation to go to tender. The agreements in any event were fraudulent and were contracts against public policy. The agreements should be set aside on the basis of unjust enrichment,” wrote Shadreck Tondori, the national co-ordinator of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, in his founding affidavit.
Mahachi and Makwavarara-led commissions had no right to act on behalf of the council and their commission lacked authority to bind the City of Harare.
The Urban Councils Act does not permit a commission to last more than 180 days, but Makwavarara, who was appointed by Chombo, was at the helm for seven terms.
There was breach of procurement laws in that any public entity in Zimbabwe is obliged to comply with the Procurement Act.
Harare City Council needed land development services and that needed to be floated via tender, but this was not complied with. In any event, there is also no evidence that Augur Investments has ever had any experience in construction and development.
“It has not done any work in Ukraine or Estonia. Michael Mahachi and Ignatius Chombo, the driver of these agreements, were motivated by self-interest,” wrote Tondori.
Mahachi, who was appointed chairperson of the commission by Chombo after Makwavarara, is accused of having chaired two meetings after the signing of the agreement, but never cared to inform the council for discussion. The memorandum of understanding was kept away from councillors.
“The court cannot allow a situation where Michael Mahachi chaired a caretaker council meeting which awarded a multi-million-dollar project to Augur Investments without going to tender. He then signed a Memorandum of Understanding and Shareholders’ Agreement with Augur Investments as the chairperson of the Council. Thereafter he approves a representative of the council on the appointment of himself as a project manager, (which) above that would guarantee him at least US$1,9 million,” Tondori said.
The matter is yet to be heard.