More details emerge over illegal cemetery owner
The Harare man who recently appeared in court on allegations of selling more than 50 graves at US$80 each on State land using burial orders and issuing receipts in the name of a legitimate cemetery company, Zororo Memorial Park, has other pending cases before the courts and reports made to police.
John Rukodzi (49), the owner of the fake Rukodzi Parish Cemetery, a few metres away from Zororo Memorial Park along Seke Road, was arrested on Monday on fraud charges.
He appeared before a Harare Magistrate recently and was released out of custody to October 12.
On Tuesday, sources close to the investigations said Rukodzi once applied for land from Harare City Council near Zororo Cemetery, but then, without approval, moved into the nearby State land where he was doing his shady dealings.
He was also being investigated for other cases of fraud using the same method of operation.
In February this year, the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works wrote to the police in Waterfalls advising them that they had not allocated any land for cemetery purposes to Rukodzi at either Retreat or Eyestone farms.
“Could you please be advised that the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works did not allocate any land for cemetery purposes to Rukodzi Parish Pvt Ltd at the above properties. Be guided accordingly,” reads the letter dated February 7, 2023, from the ministry.
The Herald has it on good authority that Rukodzi appeared before a Mbare Magistrate Court facing similar allegations since last year.
In one of the cases, in July this year, Rukodzi was arrested by police in Waterfalls for opening up a cemetery for the purposes of burial without the consent from the ministry.
By then, the complainant was Mr Richard Manyanga of Eyestone Farm in Waterfalls.
In his statement to the police, Mr Manyanga said on June 7, Rukodzi started operating a cemetery business in the area before he was approached by locals who ordered him to stop, but he did not.
A report was made to the police following verifications that were made and he was arrested. The matter was under investigation by then under case number CR 318/02/23.
In another case, which was under investigations under case number 82/02/23 at Waterfalls Police Station, Rukodzi was once reported by Mr Thomas Mafuka (73) for the same illegal operation.
In his statement to the police, Mr Mafuka said, “Sometime in November 2022 and in Eyestone farm, Waterfalls, the accused person (Rukodzi) went to the Eyestone farm and started operating a cemetery business. The accused person buried about 11 corpses in his illegal business. The accused person was approached by the Eyestone residents and was ordered to stop and he did not stop.
“A report was made at ZRP Waterfalls and the accused was called and questioned about his business and stated that he was authorised by the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works.
“The accused person was ordered to stop burying copses until the verification from Local Government was made but he did not stop until he was arrested and a response from Local Government was obtained indicating that the accused person was never authorised by ministry of lands to do his business in Eyestone farm and a response is attached on the docket.”
In his response then, Rukodzi denied the charges.
“I deny the allegations because I have some documents which authenticate my operations at the place and I am still waiting for the other documents from the Ministry of Local Government,” he said in his warned and cautioned statement.
Another complainant, Mr Joseph Bheura (43) of Sunningdale 2 in Harare also made another report to the police against Rukodzi.
In his statement in February 2023, Mr Bheura alleged that sometime in May 2022, he had been advised by people in and around Eyestone Farm that Rukodzi had illegally set up a cemetery.
He said he only got to know about his activities after a billboard had been constructed at the area and they trapped him.
By then Rukodzi told them that he had the authority to do so since he had been authorised by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
He was apprehended and surrendered to the police.
In another report, Mr Bheura reported to the police alleging that Rukodzi was selling graves on State land. The matter is still under investigation. However, in February this year, police in Waterfalls wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health and Child Care to confirm the authenticity of a letter from Rukodzi which he purported that it was from their office.
“This police station is investigating a case of Contravening section 35 (2) of the Cemetery Act on ZRP Waterfalls Cr 83/02/23 in which the accused person is burying dead human bodies at a site being suspected to be unlawful.
“May your good office furnish this office with information concerning the authenticity of the attached letter,” reads part of the letter from ZRP.
In its response, the Ministry said, “Rukodzi Parish (Pvt) Ltd applied for a license for registration and formalisation of the former Retreat Farm cemetery into a cemetery from Harare City Council. City council indicated that Rukodzi Parish (Pvt) Ltd sought the opinion of stakeholders who include the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
“The inspection of the proposed facility was carried out on 20 October 2022 and it was found out that from a public health perspective, there are no adverse events anticipated as a result of the proposed activity.
“A letter was written to Rukodzi Parish Pvt Ltd showing the opinion of the Ministry of Health and Child Care as the competent authority in Public Health, Rukodzi Parish Pvt Ltd is supposed to present the letter to Harare City Council.
“The opinion of the Ministry of Health and Child Care and other stakeholders will guide Harare City Council on its decision on the license. This is the reason why it is indicated in the letter that Rukodzi Parish Pvt Ltd should observe and fulfil all other necessary requirements related to the proposed activity.
“The letter is not a license, and the only licensing authority in this case is Harare City Council where the necessary fees are paid. It is the duty of the law enforcement agents to ensure all licensed processes have proper papers.”
On Tuesday, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed that investigations over the case were still in progress. “The suspect was once arrested and fined by the police. He has however been arrested again for selling graves in the name of Zororo Memorial Park on State land while pocketing the money,” he said.
So far there are about 50 graves in which several people had been buried while the other five had only been dug.
The State land, which is just opposite the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, has no offices and no one manning the grave site.
There is only a sign post inscribed Rukodzi Parish Cemetery which has two mobile numbers written on it.
Most burials in the city are now being conducted at city council’s Granville Cemetery along the Harare-Masvingo highway after the Warren Hills Cemetery filled.
But there are three private cemeteries at Zororo Memorial Gardens near Chitungwiza, Glen Forest Memorial Park in Hatcliffe and Restland Memorial Park in Dzivaresekwa.