Former minister Chombo loses farm downsizing case Ignatius Chombo

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter

FORMER Cabinet Minister Ignatius Chombo has lost a bid to block the Government from downsizing his 3 099ha farm to the normal standard size for his ecological zone and reallocating the remainder to several others.

The Government could not proceed with partitioning the farm in April 2022 after Chombo obtained a High Court interdict until a ruling had been made on the legality of the downsizing.

Chombo, a beneficiary of land reform, had occupied Allan Grange Farm in Zvimba for more than 22 years, having signed a 99-year lease with the Government.

He approached the High Court challenging the intention to cancel the lease by Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Anxious Jongwe Masuka.

The application was initially filed without his estranged wife as the second respondent, but she was joined to these proceedings as a party through a court order in November 2022 under case number HC 6122/22.

The Government wrote to Chombo in June 2021 advising him of the cancellation of a 99-year-lease issued in 2006 to pave the way for the subdivision and resettlement of new farmers on the surplus land.

Minister Masuka stated the reasons for cancellation which included to retain Cde Marian Chombo’s rights as a holder of an equal joint and undivided share in the leasehold following divorce and re-planning to accommodate other settlers already settled on the farm.

While the matter was still pending in court, Minister Masuka reportedly started the process of subdividing the farm for resettlement of new farmers.

Chombo rushed to court after he received calls on March 23 last year from lands officials, under the minister’s instructions, advising him that his farm was subject to re-pegging.

In a judgment delivered last week, High Court Commercial Division judge, Justice Jacob Manzunzu, dismissed Chombo’s application with costs finding that “this is not a proper case for the court to exercise its discretion in favour of granting the declaratory orders sought”.

“The application be and is hereby dismissed with costs on the ordinary scale,” said Justice Manzunzu.

The relief sought by Chombo was premised on a legal violation by the Minister. The violation had to be proved on a balance of probabilities, which the court ruled was not done.

In March 2018, Chombo had entered into a tripartite agreement with an investor called Pepary Investments (Private) Limited (Pepary) and the Government of Zimbabwe represented by the minister.

The judge said the parties knew at the time of signing the agreement that the Government, through the Minister, had unfettered rights to repossess the leasehold or parts of the leasehold in terms of clause 20 of the lease agreement.

The argument was raised about the rights flowing from the divorce matter between Ignatius and Marian Chombo, but Justice Manzunzu said the court would not transgress into that area as if it were sitting as a family court to deal with ancillary issues to the divorce, neither was the court sitting as a review court.

It was also argued that by virtue of the tripartite agreement and the Land Commission Act, the Government waived any right to cancel the 99-year lease agreement in favour of Chombo or at least not before expiration of 20 years from March 14 2018 in terms of two clauses of the tripartite agreement.

But Justice Manzunzu said his reading of the tripartite agreement did not support the stance taken by Chombo.

He agreed with the legal counsel for Marian Chombo that the tripartite agreement did not abrogate the powers of the minister as the administrative owner of the land in terms of the law.

“The role of the minister in the tripartite agreement was to make sure that the joint venture was approved by Government and such an agreement could not have intended to oust the role of the Minister in managing the land reform programme,” he said

Following the notice to cancel Chombo’s lease, officials from the Lands ministry started the re-pegging process in 2022.

It was Chombos’ contention through his legal counsel Professor Lovemore Madhuku that the Minister had no powers to cancel the 99-year-lease in terms of the Land Commission Act. Chombo was allocated the farm in 2001, and subsequently had a 99-year lease agreement approved in 2006.

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