FORMER Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) combatants are taking government to court over properties confiscated by the latter at the height of the Gukurahundi disturbances in the 1980s.
The Financial Gazette has reported that the ex-ZIPRA cadres are at an advanced stage of preparing papers to be filed in the courts of law.
A representative of the ex-combatants said they will not leave any stone unturned in pursuit of justice.
The properties, housed under a vehicle registered as Nitram Investments (Private) Limited, were confiscated by government during the disturbances that took place in the Matabeleland and the Midlands regions between 1981 and 1987 in what became known as Gukurahundi.
Gukurahundi was a result of the fallout between two groups of former liberation war fighters that had fought the Ian Smith regime as ZIPRA (under the Zimbabwe African People’s Union or ZAPU led by the late Joshua Nkomo) and the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army or ZANLA (under the Zimbabwe African National Union or ZANU led by Robert Mugabe).
At independence, the ZIPRA and ZANLA ex-combatants were then integrated into the single Zimbabwe National Army.
But ructions soon emerged after the ruling ZANU party accused ZIPRA and its mother party ZAPU of plotting to stage a coup after several arms caches were discovered in some parts of the country.
ZIPRA combatants then left army camps, leading to protracted civil disturbances mainly in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces during which properties belonging to ZIPRA were confiscated by the State.
Ex-ZIPRA combatant and Nitram official, Mark Mbayiwa, who valued the investments at US$300 million, said the properties were meant to raise income that would have cushioned their members against poverty and there was no treasonous objective behind the projects.
Each ZIPRA cadre had made financial contributions towards the acquisition of the properties, which included farms and buildings.
“Hence as ex-ZIPRA officials we believe that we have the relevant ownership-supporting data concerning the properties,” he said.
“The bulk of the buildings were confiscated by politically-connected individuals taking advantage of the post-independence disturbances. Ownership and title deeds were then clandestinely transferred and the bulk of the buildings were sold. However, we have the records to prove the illegality of the processes,” he said, adding: “Our former ZIPRA cadres, the ‘little boys’ who are still in government, are trying to rubbish our claims under the pretext that the Unity Accord overshadowed property ownership. However, they must bear in mind that the Unity Accord had no clause which automatically transferred ownership from Nitram (Pvt) Ltd since these two are legally separate entities.”
Responding to the allegations being levelled against the government, Minister of War Veterans, Tshinga Dube, said the ZIPRA ex-combatants were free to deal with the matter in their own way.
“The property issue was raised at the indaba we held in April this year and President Robert Mugabe promised to look into the matter. However, if they have seen the courts as the best platform to address the issue then our powers to find an amicable solution will be limited,” he said.
Commenting on the development, legal expert and ZimRights national chairperson, Passmore Nyakureba, said the law recognises the right to property for both individuals and legal persona like political organisations.
“This right is also guaranteed by the Constitution of Zimbabwe and it can only be withdrawn through a court order or any other lawful procedure. In the present case, if the scenario obtaining is that ZIPRA, as a common law persona or through a private company acquired ownership of immovable property and such was divested of ownership by the government without due process of the law, it is therefore within their legal right to approach the courts of law in pursuit of an order for them to be restored of possession.
“If, in any case, the government confiscated the properties belonging to ZIPRA without having followed the law, then they must simply return the property to the lawful owners without waiting to be compelled by the courts to do so,” he said.
Political analyst, Ibbo Mandza, said it was shocking to realise that the issue of properties had not been resolved years after the Gukurahundi era.
“These issues should have been resolved through the purported Unity Accord of 1987 and even though it had not been resolved the issue must have been pushed at strategic times when Joshua Nkomo and Simon Muzenda were still in government,” he said.
Mandaza said the ex-ZIPRA combatants had a strong case, but hinted that recovery of the properties was now impossible and that the only option available was compensation to the tune of the properties’ worth.-Fingaz