Chombo a cellphone farmer: ex-wife
Local Government minister, Ignatious Chombo had a bad day in the High Court last week where he was portrayed by his ex-wife Marian as an unproductive “cellphone and weekend farmer”, who did not pay his utility bills.
Chombo’s farm size was also revealed to be almost eight times more than the gazetted farm size.
The stunning revelations were made in an explosive courtroom battle over the ownership of the 3 100 hectare Allan Grange farm in Raffingora pitting him against his ex-wife Marian.
Ownership of the farm was not concluded when the two parties agreed on a divorce settlement in August 2012. The issue is now on trial at the High Court after Chombo recently applied for the ejection of Marian from the vast property.
There was no love lost between the former couple as they fought bitterly, in the process revealing their delicate financial positions and sensitive family secrets. The two never made eye contact during the trial.
Chombo and Marian each testified before High Court judge, Justice David Mangota arguing for their rights to keep the farm. Marian said she was prepared to accept only 400 hectares out of the 3 100 hectares in line with the government gazetted maximum farm sizes.
Chombo said he deserved the whole farm as he secured huge loans of over US$1,2 million from CBZ and Metbank to buy machinery and finance farming operations. Marian is currently concentrating on livestock production on a small section of the farm.
The Zanu PF minister said he deserved the whole farm to enable him to pay off his debts and produce viably.
“I have to fulfill contractual obligations with the ministry of lands that I should utilise the land, otherwise I will lose it,” he said.
But Marian’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa
asked the Local Government minister whether he had disclosed to Metbank and CBZ that his ex-wife was also claiming ownership of the farm before securing the loans.
“The matter did not arise. The bank was not aware,” Chombo said. “The bank was only aware that I had a 99-year lease agreement with the ministry of lands and the programme of activities at the farm.”
Mtetwa quipped: “You chose not to disclose her claim to the farm.”
Quizzed on whose name the loan from the bank was taken, Chombo conceded it was under Growfin, a company in which he was a sole shareholder.
Mtetwa said Growfin had no legal claim to the farm as Allan Grange was jointly owned by Chombo and Marian in accordance with the offer letter and the lease agreement. Mtetwa asked Chombo why he had not been servicing the loan, if he was indeed a good farmer.
Chombo said the situation had been difficult for him for the past three years due to poor rains. But Mtetwa said the bank statements Chombo produced, showed that the debt was not a loan, but an overdraft facility which was supposed to expire in 2012. She said the loan could also have been for anything else other than farming.
“There is no proof to show when you borrowed and how much you borrowed,” she said.
Chombo said he would repay the unsecured loan once the Grain Marketing Board paid him for the nearly 800 metric tonnes of maize he delivered last year. He said this year; he was expecting a harvest of up to 2 000 tonnes of maize.
Chombo said he was not prepared to farm side-by-side with Marian because the two had divorced.
He claimed Marian’s mining and chicken activities were breeding some bad elements who were stealing from him.
“I want a clean start,” Chombo said.
But Mtetwa said Marian had no connection with the alleged thefts.
“It’s a recent fabrication. You also deliberately incurred debts to defeat the defendants’ [Marian] claim to the land as a co-lessee,” she said.
Chombo said a subdivision of the 3 100 hectare Allan Grange farm was not possible claiming it was not economically viable.
“The land will end up being repossessed,” he said.
On the issue of farm equipment, Chombo said he paid off a South African-based Zimbabwean businessman after he had teamed up with the former owner to demand payment for machinery he inherited. He said the bulk of the machinery at the farm came under the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s farm mechanisation programme. Chombo received combine harvesters, tractors and disc harrows but did not say whether he had paid for these.
Advocate Thabani Mpofu who is representing Chombo, accused Marian of running illegal mining and wood cutting activities on the farm allegedly without the knowledge of the Local Government minister.
But she said there was nothing sinister about her mining activities as these were legally registered in terms of the law with the ministry of Mines and Mining Development. She further stated there were no wood cutting activities on the farm.
Marian said Chombo was aware that she had personally employed security guards to deal with wood poachers resulting in the arrest of a number of them.
Mpofu said Chombo was facing financial problems because he delivered grain to GMB but had not been paid.
But Marian said there was no proof or papers to prove that indeed Chombo made any deliveries to the GMB.
Mpofu questioned Marian about where she acquired the money to finance her election campaign in last year’s July 31 elections. Marian said the issue of the campaign had nothing to do with the case.
Marian said she was staying at the farm together with her two sons, Nimrod (27) and Ignatious (25) who are both unemployed. She said if she were to be “uprooted” from the farm, the lives of the two would be “finished” as they do not have any other source of income.
Marian revealed to the court that Chombo never paid school fees for his two children who recently graduated in China with degrees in economics and architecture respectively.
“From Grade Zero he never contributed to their education. The two children relied on me for their schools fees,” she said.
Marian said as the two were both members of Zanu PF, Chombo was aware of the party’s 2013 election manifesto which stated that women should be empowered through the land reform programme.
She said since she had proved that she was a capable farmer, the court must allow her to keep 400 hectares of the farm leaving Chombo with 2 700 hectares. Marian said she had no problem farming side by side with her ex-husband as the two were adults and mature people. She said since their separation, the two never crossed paths at the farm.
Mpofu quizzed Marian on why she did not make an effort to look for an alternative farm or tried to secure tenancy of the disputed land.
Marian said in 2010 she met with former minister of lands, Hebert Mrerwa. She said Mrerwa referred her to the legal department where she was given a letter confirming that the former couple jointly owned the farm.
Marian also said the permanent secretary in the ministry also told her that it was not possible for her to get an alternative farm, as the records already showed that she jointly owned Allan Grange.
Marian said if Chombo was not prepared to share the farm with her, he was the one who should move out. She said Chombo had a better chance to get another farm as he held influential positions as a cabinet minister and Zanu PF secretary for lands.
She said by giving up the farm, Chombo would also prove that he supported the governments’ call to promote gender equality. Marian produced a Zimstats 2012 report which showed that women only account of 19% ownership of land in large scale commercial farming.
The trial will continue at another date yet to be announced.
Why i deserve Allan Grange farm — Marian
In her testimony, Marian said she deserved Allan Grange farm as she was the principal farmer from 2002 up to 2009.
To prove that she was running the day-to-day operations before the estrangement, she produced Allan Grange utility bills for water, electricity and telephone which were all under her name.
Marian said she started concentrating on the livestock section in 2009 after Chombo requested to be involved in the farming operations in order to gain experience in the event he retired from government.
She said the two agreed that she would take care of the livestock section, in addition to supervising managers on the cropping section.
But one day, Marian said, she was shocked when managers told her that they were under instruction to bar her from the offices.
Marian said she was now concentrating on chicken and kept up to 60 000 birds every month under a contract with Irvines. She used to rake in profits of up to US$29 000 per cycle, but the contract with Irvines had now been stopped due to wrangles over the farm ownership, the court heard.
Marian testified that Chombo never paid utility bills since he ejected her from the main farm. She said when she was still doing the cropping, Allan Grange farm used to produce almost 10 times more than what Chombo is harvesting.
She said Chombo was merely a “cellphone and weekend” farmer who had no time for agriculture because of his commitments in government.
“Go to GMB and records from 2002 show that I was the primary farmer while he is a cellphone farmer,” Marian said.