The Sunday Mail
WHAT started off as a routine procedure of registering a deceased person’s estate — in this case, a house — has turned out to be a nightmare for a Chitungwiza family.
Isaka Jone and his family have been left homeless after losing rights to their late father’s property under “unclear circumstances”.
“I am not sure how it all got to the point of us being homeless like this. We need help; we want our home back,” said the 44-year-old Jone, as he began narrating to The Sunday Mail Society the sad events that left his family homeless.
The family, including five minors, have been living in the streets for the past month after a person came forward claiming to have bought the house without their knowledge.
Jone’s eldest child is 14-year-old while the youngest is eight-months-old.
They are now squatting in a black plastic shelter along Gomarara Street in Zengeza, just outside what used to be their family home.
Apart from living in the open, they are struggling to get decent meals.
In fact, they have now turned into beggars, as they now rely on handouts.
“Life has not been easy for us of late. We have run out of food because my husband cannot work anymore. It is devastating,” adds Jone’s wife, Fungai Paidamoyo.
But, how did they end up in this unfortunate situation?
Things began changing in 2006 following the death of Jone’s father, Nisbert.
He and his four siblings were subsequently embroiled in a fight over inheritance with their late father’s second wife, Shupikai Guvheya.
Their biological mother passed on in the early 90s.
“After realising we had a serious crisis at hand, I decided to register our father’s estate with the Master of the High Court as per procedure…,” he said.
It was then that he met Fredrick Manyangarerwa, who claimed to be a registered estate administrator.
“…my siblings are all based out of Harare, so they asked me to register the estate on behalf of the family. However, the Master of High Court advised us to choose an executor as a family. As I was about to leave the Master’s premises, I met Manyangarerwa who offered to assist us as our executor, but for a fee,” recounts Jone.
Although he was initially reluctant, he later engaged his services after talking to his siblings.
The family-appointed executor is said to have started frequently demanding varying amounts of money ostensibly for procedures and services rendered.
However, soon after receiving payments, he would disappear, only to resurface demanding more money.
In 2008, the executor demanded an additional $9 million supposedly to finalise the process.
Jone, a self-employed appliances technician, could not immediately raise the huge sum of money.
“He was so convincing and we all thought he was finally making progress. Manyangarerwa even assured us that this was the last payment since the process was now nearing completion,” he said. But, this was not to be.
“In 2010, he summoned me to his office and gave me some documents to sign. He told me that they would later visit our home with Chitungwiza council officials to inspect and verify the property.
“I did not know much about the procedures and trusted him to handle everything professionally and above-board since he claimed to be a qualified person.”
For years, neither executor nor municipal officials visited their place.
And in 2016, he then received a letter from Manyangarerwa indicating that he had stepped down as their executor, handing over the case to Obram Trust.
When Jone questioned the transition, Obram Trust told him they had been appointed by the Master of High Court to handle the case.
Days later, the Trust asked him to pay $2 900, an amount he could not raise in time.
Two months later, they threatened to sell the house.
“The call left me worried, so I visited their offices with receipts for all the payments I had made in the past. Unpleasant words were exchanged due to frustration and they (Obram Trust) said they were pulling out of the case, handing it back to Manyangarerwa.”
In 2018, Manyangarerwa then visited the house with some “strangers” for a tour of the property.
“I asked him questions on the day and he kept on brushing me off. This prompted me to visit our local municipal office and I got the shock of my life after they told me the house had been sold.
“Up to now, we have not met the new owner and do not know how much the house was sold for. They refuse to tell us who bought it! Actually, we do not need the money. We just want our home back,” said an emotional Jone, as he broke into tears.
A security guard has since been placed at the home to block the family from accessing the property.
Jone has tried to approach the Master of High Court’s office for clarity but the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has made the mission impossible.
“. . .Manyangarerwa has since advised us to visit the Master of High Court offices for our share from the sale of the house. But, how can I collect a share from a sell that I did not authorise?” he queried.
“They tell me the house was because of bills that accrued due to the legal process but that is all a lie. I only refused, rather struggled, to pay $2 900 since I realised that I had been pumping out more money over the years with no progress at all. My rates and bills were all paid up, so I do not know of any other outstanding bill that could lead to losing my family house.”
Under the deceased estate registration process, it is the edict meeting, advertising of debtors and creditors and distribution plan that only needs to be paid for.
The adverts and edict meetings are pegged at around US$50 and US$10 (or equivalent), respectively. Contacted for comment, the executor blamed Jone.
“It was the Master of High Court’s decision to sell the property after he (Jone) failed to fulfil some of the deceased estate procedures and payments.
“We called him and even sent him letters on several occasions but he would not turn up or make some of the payments that were required, which resulted in the court authorising the house to be sold.
“After the house was sold, I called and told him to come and collect his money and he did not turn up. It is now close to three years and the money has lost value,” said Manyangarerwa who, however, did not divulge the name of the new owner.
Conversely, Obram Trust distanced itself from the sad drama.
“I know Manyangarerwa, but I do not want to be linked to such issues. I think he can speak for himself,” said Obram Trust’s Oliver Masomera.
Will Writing Centre’s human rights lawyer Mr Clever Mandizvidza said such cases were now pervasive.
He said families need to understand the deceased estate procedures to safeguard their properties from criminal elements.
“It is sad that most people are losing their properties. This also brings into context the importance of will writing. They help prevent such unfortunate incidences from happening. The public needs to be enlightened and a lot still needs to be done,” he said.
“The edict meeting is the first step in the deceased estate registration process and it is done to allow for the appointment of the executor in the event that the deceased did not leave a will behind.
“After the advertising process, the property is evaluated and from the estimated total value, the Master of High Court is entitled to 4 percent, while the executor is entitled to 5 percent, and this is usually paid before the property is sold,” he explained.
“I am not sure why the Jone case took so long and why they had to pay all those varying amounts of money. It seems like there were a lot of underhand dealings in this case.”
According to Mr Mandizvidza, the executor – often with a signed document between themselves and the potential beneficiaries – can seek authority from the Master of the High Court to sell the property.
However, in special cases, the executor can seek authority without a signed consent document.
“In this situation, they can produce documents to prove that the potential beneficiaries are having challenges fulfilling some of the procedures and payments required of them.
“If the property is sold under these circumstances, the Master and the executor have to deduct their share first and then share the remaining figure among the beneficiaries.”
The Master, after weighing the case, can authorise the auctioning of the property under the private or public auction even without the potential beneficiaries’ consent.
“The executor cannot sell the property without authorisation from the Master…that way, we are able to govern their operations. However, the executor, with authority from the Master, can sell the house without the permission of the family. In most cases, some potential beneficiaries do not take time to understand the law and they end up facing challenges,” said an official from the Master’s office who spoke on condition of anonymity.