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Ignatious Chombo 3 000 ha farm set to be downsized

By Agencies

Former cabinet minister, Ignatius Chombo has lost a bid to block Agriculture minister, Anxious Masuka from subdividing his Allan Grange Farm in Zvimba, measuring over 3000 hectares to accommodate other farmers including his ex-wife Marian.

High Court judge Justice Jacob Manzunzu ruled that the reasons for the cancellation of the lease given by the minister made sense and he also has the power to act in the manner he did.

“The role of the minister in the tripartite agreement was to make sure that the joint venture was approved by the government and such an agreement could not have intended to oust the role of the minister in managing the land reform programme.

“For the reasons already stated in this judgment, this is not a proper case for the court to exercise its discretion in favour of granting the declaratory orders sought.”

The judge ruled slapping Chombo with costs on an ordinary scale.

His ex-wife Marian joined the court proceedings through a court order in 2022.

Chombo who had been in occupation of the farm for over two decades after signing the 99-year lease sought a declaratory order for it to be declared that the minister could not cancel his lease outside provisions of clause 22.1.

He also wanted an order that the reasons given by Masuka for the cancellation declared illegal and null and void.

On 14 November 2006, Chombo, who at the time was married to Marian, signed a 99-year lease agreement with the Government.

Primarily the farm was to be used for agricultural and pastoral purposes, although any other purpose was subject to consent by the minister.

In March 2018 Chombo entered into a tripartite agreement with an investor called Pepary Investments (Private) Limited (Pepary) and the government.

On 21 June 2021, the Minister wrote a letter to Chombo informing him of his intention to cancel the 99-year lease agreement in respect of the farm.

The letter gave reasons for the intended cancellation and invited Ignatius to make his representations, if any, to the minister on the matter.
On 13 August 2021, he responded to the Minister’s letter and made representations persuading him not to execute his intention to cancel the lease agreement.

Despite the lengthy representations, the Minister proceeded to cancel the lease agreement on 21 September 2021 which letter only reached him on 17 January 2022 after the current application was lodged on 3 November 2021.

Chombo argued that Masuka acted outside clause 22.1 of the lease agreement hence his actions are illegal, null and void.

Marian and Masuka took an almost similar position in defending this application.

They argued that the application was overtaken by events in that the lease agreement was eventually cancelled yet the application was based on an intention to cancel.

The court heard that the reasons to cancel the 99-year lease were to retain Marian’s rights as a holder of an equal joint and undivided share in the leasehold following divorce and re-plan to accommodate other settlers already settled on the farm.

In his opposition the minister said he had considered that the farm is large enough to be subdivided with each entity retaining its viability as agricultural land.

He also said it was important to note that Marian was still resident at the farm, despite being deprived of her rights to practice any agricultural activities.

Masuka said for repossession to be effected, the lease must be cancelled first.

“This is what the government is doing. Provisions of clause 22.1 of the agreement of lease are permissive in that they only apply in situations where the lease is cancelled in totality. In casu, the intention is to partially repossess some portions of the land for the reasons outlined in my letter of intention to cancel the lease,” argued the minister.

The minister said Chombo would be offered a new security of tenure document for 500 hectares in line with the reasons for the cancellation of the lease which were articulated in the notice of 21 June 2021.

The judge upheld the arguments.

He said the tripartite agreement did not abrogate the powers of the minister as the Administrative owner of the land in terms of the law.

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