The complexities of the estate of the late national hero Dr Herbert Ushewokunze, and the problems of figuring out all the assets he held with disputed ownership, is haunting the heirs and beneficiaries of that estate who are still fighting succession battles over parts of the estate, nearly 30 years after his death.
Dr Ushewokunze, a former cabinet minister died on December 10, 1995 and was buried at the National Heroes Acre.
At the centre of the latest estate dispute is a United Kingdom-based nurse, Ms Georgina Dadirai Savanhu, who is fighting to retain three Bulawayo properties she claimed were donated to her by the national hero during the couple’s two-year relationship from 1981 to 1983.
During this time Dr Ushewokunze bought three properties in Bulawayo and registered them in Ms Savanhu’s name, but the problem is not as simple as just looking at a title deed as the executors and trustees of the estate say the three were always part of Dr Ushewokunze’s estate and just registered in another name to circumvent the Zanu PF leadership code. In any case there have already been High Court judgments that concern the stands, judgments Ms Savanhu wants reversed.
An additional complication is that there are claims she sold the property, or some of the property, although that purchaser is now also dead, and that some of the land was subdivided subsequently and sold again, creating a lengthening chain of potential ownership. So the estate of the buyer, Duncan Kona, is also involved. In Ms Savanhu’s case the fact that her name is on the title deeds means that the High Court will hear the case in full.
Ms Savanhu recently filed a lawsuit at the High Court citing the estate of Ushewokunze, Estate Late Duncan William Kona, Nomsa Hazel Ncube, Taruberekera Netsai Makhosazana, Dlamini Township Residents Association, Riverside Estate Trust, Ambrose Nzewi and Nonoti Properties. Bulawayo City Council, the Registrar of Deeds office in Bulawayo, the Surveyor General’s office in Bulawayo, the Sheriff of Zimbabwe and the Master of High Court were also cited, since they are the ones who will have to implement whatever the High Court decides.
Ms Savanhu, more than 27 years after the death of her former lover, wants the three properties excluded from the estate claiming they were donated to her. She also wants to set aside some High Court judgments pertaining to the three stands measuring a total of 40ha, claiming these judgments were made in error.
She claimed that following termination of her relationship with Dr Ushewokunze, the properties were left in her name because they had been bought for her as a gift.
The first round in the latest dispute went in favour of Ms Savanhu. In a judgment handed down on Wednesday, Justice Webster Chinamora threw out numerous preliminary points raised by the respondents seeking to block Ms Savanhu from being heard, paving way for the matter to be decided on the merits of the evidence and argument presented by both sides. The title deeds were the decisive factor in the hearing of this case.
Ms Savanhu, in her application, is also seeking orders declaring her owner of immovable property in question, that she did not enter into any agreement to surrender the immovable property to Dr Ushewokunze, that she never sold the immovable property to Mr Kona and that, therefore, any agreement of sale between Mr Kona and members of the Dlamini Township Residence Association and Riverside Estate Trust is invalid.
In addition, Ms Savanhu also wants an order declaring that the subdivision permit and all other official documents relating to the subdivision of the immovable property, which were issued in the name of Mr Kona in respect of the immovable property, to be deemed to have been issued to her.
Further, she wants an order directing that all purchasers of subdivisions of the immovable property, who purchased the same from Mr Kona, be directed to enter into agreements of sale with her, failing which they will be evicted from the immovable property.
In this regard, Justice Chinamora agreed with Ms Savanhu legal counsel that the averments made were relevant to warrant the court hearing arguments on the merit.
“The applicant is attempting to vindicate her rights in the immovable property, over which she holds title deeds. She acknowledges that the immovable property had been subdivided on account of what she terms as the unlawful and illegal actions of Mr Kona.
Instead of seeking the eviction of all those persons who purchased subdivisions from Mr Kona, Ms Savanhu is offering them an opportunity to regularise their standing with her, and only if they fail or refuse to do so will they then be evicted.
In her application, Ms Savanhu argued that unbeknown to her Dr Ushewokunze tried without success to transfer the three properties to her daughter Ms Makhosazana, although he seemed to have believed that transfer had been done.
Dr Ushewokunze then sold the properties to the late Mr Kona, who was made to believe that the properties were registered in the name of Ms Makhosazana.
While an agreement of sale between Makhosazana and Mr Kona dated June 4 1987 was prepared by Lazarus & Sarif law firm, it is disputed by Ms Makhosazana who denies contacting Mr Kona.
But in her affidavit Ms Makhosazana argued that she was in the UK at the time of the alleged agreement of sale, and that she never owned the properties in dispute.
Until Dr Ushewokunze’s death in 1995, no legal proceedings to recover or transfer ownership of the properties from Ms Savanhu were instituted and title remained in her name to date. Ms Savanhu argued that the agreement dated July 4, 1987 purportedly signed between her and Mr Kona was fraudulent, since Mr Kona did not even know of her existence until early to mid-1990s.
But the Estate of Dr Ushewokunze wanted to bar Ms Savanhu from being heard arguing her application was an abuse of court process, because it concerns, in part, efforts to set aside a default judgment that was granted against her in 2000, arguing that she sat on her laurels for almost two decades, and that therefore, she could not now be allowed to sue.
But Justice Chinamora found that Ms Savanhu only became aware of various acts of fraud and unlawful attempts to disenfranchise her of the immovable property, towards the end of 2020.
It was the discovery of these facts between October 2020 and December 2020 that prompted Ms Savanhu to rush to court and Justice Chinamora ruled that it was not a proper characterisation of the application to state that the cause of action arose 20 years ago.
In his view, Justice Chinamora said there are critical issues that stand to be decided in the application, particularly because the immovable property is registered in Ms Savanhu’s name.
“The court cannot turn a blind eye to her allegations of ownership of the immovable property,” he said. “At the very least, they must be interrogated. Her claim does not appear to me to be frivolous or to constitute an abuse of court process.”
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