Estate hangs 88 years after death

The Herald

Daniel Nemukuyu  Investigations Editor 

OWNERSHIP of “kwa Koefman” or “Koefman’s Corner” in the narrow gap between the old town of Harare and old Mbare hangs in the balance, some 88 years after the death of the original owner and developer Mr Samuel Koefman, with the title deeds still in the name of his deceased estate. 

Now there are efforts being made, by the look of it, to grab the property, whose value has rocketed in the more than a century since it was allocated for planting vegetables next to the Mukuvisi. 

The property is still registered under the estate of the Late Samuel Koefman, who died in January 1933. Normally a property moves into the ownership of the heirs, either those in the will or to family members if there is no will, within a few months and almost always within a year. 

To be still floating in legal space 88 years later must make this the oldest estate in the books that has still not been finalised. 

Mr Koefman, who was born in Poland and was a naturalised citizen of the US, operated his businesses in Zimbabwe, including tobacco processing. He owned property locally including kwaKoefman, and built the single storey complex on the land.  

His property was a town planning anomaly for many years being acquired before the final boundaries of the original Salisbury township and its commonage were settled, and before legislation separated the “European” and “African” areas, but he had the deeds so he kept it. 

While for 88 years, his estate had not been finalised, the tenants at his Angelbecks Plot 1 Ward Number 1 in Mbare, now popularly known as “kwaKoefman” near Matapi Police Station had been paying rentals totalling close to US$20 000 monthly. 

Mr Koefman’s children are long dead as well and the estate was left hanging until 2015 when it was resuscitated using a non-existent file number DR41/73. 

The property, which is about 3ha, and has commercial structures being leased out to almost 100 tenants paying an average monthly rent of US$200 each. 

However, it is not clear who was benefiting from the collected funds over the years considering that all the businessman’s known relatives had died. 

It also remains unclear whether the taxman was getting a share from the property business because receipts were being issued in the names of at least nine different companies, five of which were unregistered. 

Without seeing the said 1973 deceased estate file (DR41/73) officers at the Master of High Court opened a dummy record with a new file number “DR600/15” on the understanding that the 1973 file was now at the National Archives. 

A check with the National Archives revealed that the cited DR 41/73 had nothing to do with Mr Samuel Koeffman. 

The High Court granted an order for the appointment of Mr Edward Mark Warhaust as the executor of the estate on the basis of incorrect citation of the 1973 file. 

The officer who opened the replacement file at the Master of High Court’s office did so without having sight of the said 1973 file (DR41/73) relied upon in resuscitating the estate case. 

The file DR 41/73 is there at the National Archives but it has nothing to do with Mr Koefmann’s estate. 

That file number was duly issued  in respect of the late Aenes May Sewell who died on June 27 in 1972. 

On the basis of the non-existent 1973 file, officers at the Master of the High Court’s office used photocopies to conclude the estate. 

Secretary for the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) Mr Walter Chikwana said the officers were not supposed to open a new file in the case. 

“They are not supposed to open a new file when the original one is there. A live file, no matter how old it is, must not be archived. 

“You do not archive an incomplete matter or a live record. Archiving means destroying the matter after completion,” he said. 

Mr Chikwana said if the file is at the National Archives, JSC dispatches vehicles to go and collect it whenever its needed. 

“Whenever a file at the archives becomes relevant, we have cars ready to pick it up,” he said. 

According to the newly opened file, the beneficiaries, whose existence and relation to the late Mr Koefman is not apparently clear, reportedly agreed to have the properties transferred into a company called AngelB Properties Private Limited. 

A check with the Registrar of Companies revealed that the company was registered in 2016 but its file was empty and cannot even show who the directors are. 

For almost four months, the Chief Registrar of Companies Ms Nyagura repeatedly told the Herald that the information was missing and she could not tell who the company owners were. 

The Registrar of Companies  could not even tell where the company operates from. 

Ms Nyagura at one point requested for time to search the documents until she gave up. 

“We have tried looking for the information without success. Our system shows the company was registered in 2016 but we do not have any papers related to the company. I do not know what happened,” she said. 

Information gathered by The Herald shows that prior to the 2015 manoeuvres over the estate, tenants at Koefman area were issued with different receipts showing the following different companies: Mercrust Investments Private Limited, Mexapower Investments Private Limited, Inhurst Private Limited, Zimtrail Investments Private Limited, Harville Investments Private Limited, Vascro Investments Private Limited, Hacksaw Investments Private Limited, Mupani Trust and Erlibank Investments Private Limited. 

On behalf of the Chief Registrar of Companies, Mr M Chakanyuka wrote to The Herald saying only four of the above companies were registered. 

The four companies registered on the same date in 2014 are: Inhurst Investments, Zimtrail Investments, Harville Investments and Hacksaw Investments. 

Three names of people — Luke Edward Matthew Ngwerume, Francis Chivhenge and Harvey Armstrong Leared — appear on each of the four companies’ CR14 documents as directors. 

The other five companies, according to the Registrar of Companies, are not registered and those who were benefiting from the monthly rentals are still not known. 

Tenants at the Mbare property at one time complained to the estate agent, managing the properties that receipts were being issued in the names of many different companies. 

Mr Koefman owned a number of other properties which have been transferred into other names. He once owned Stand 2382 Salisbury Township but it was transferred to his now late son Benjamin Koefman in 1947. 

The same property, according to records at the Deeds Office, was taken over by the administrators of his estate. Stand Number 2382 Salisbury, which was once owned by Samuel Koefmann, is now a property of AIK Investments Private Limited through a deed transfer dated June 28 1954. 

Stand Number 600 Salisbury, previously owned by Samuel Keofman is now being managed by the Management Committee of the Local Authorities Pension Fund through a 1989 deed transfer. 

But at the Deeds Office, kwa Koefman remains the property of man dead for 88 years.

The Herald