NetOne Vice chair loses property claim

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
NetOne vice chairperson Ms Susan Mutangadura has lost a claim to two upmarket houses plus US$177 588 she ostensibly advanced to her estranged husband Mr Alban Chirume, the former Zimbabwe Stock Exchange chief executive in a high-profile divorce case.

The couple was married under the customary law union, but never registered their marriage.
Both parties agreed to part ways but failed to reach a settlement on the distribution of the properties.
In her decree for divorce, Ms Mutangadura had asked the court to apply the general law given their standard of living and lifestyle together with the properties acquired.

She argued that applying the customary law in the distribution of their property would result in Mr Chirume being unjustly enriched at her expense.

However, Justice Esther Muremba recently threw out Ms Mutangadura’s claims for Number 52 Borrowdale Road to be awarded as her sole and exclusive property, in a judgment she castigated her and her lawyer for failing to understand the law, in their capacity as experienced lawyers. The Judge also rejected her claim to usufruct and sole right to reside at Number 41 Harare Drive, until her remarriage or death whichever occurs first.

The parties failed to hammer a settlement at the pre-trial conference resulting in the matter being referred to trial. At trial the judge was called upon to determine what was Ms Mutangadura’s cause of action on both outstanding issues and whether the defendant is entitled to a 50 percent share of the immovable property, she was claiming. The court also wanted to decide on whether Ms Mutangadura advanced US$177 588 loan to Mr Chirume and on what terms. In her ruling, Justice Muremba noted that Ms Mutangadura was seeking dissolution of the union by High Court, which she said was wrong, at law.

“A customary law union can only be dissolved under the customary law either by giving the wife a ‘gupuro’ (a token of rejection).

The judge went on to attack Ms Mutangadura and her lawyer for their approach to the case in dire ignorance of the law.
“What is surprising is that the plaintiff (Ms Mutangadura) does not seek the dissolution of the union despite having indicated in her declaration that she was seeking dissolution of the union,” said Justice Muremba.

Ms Mutangadura based her claims on a purported marriage and wanted distribution of property done in terms of the divorce law of this country which is essentially in terms of the Matrimonial Causes Act.

One of the properties, Ms Mutangadura laid claim, Number 41 Harare Drive, Borrowdale, was acquired by Mr Chirume and his late wife in 1998, well before he met the former in 2011.

The court also found that the feuding couple had joint ownership of Number 52 Borrowdale Road in equal shares. Justice Muremba said that other than Ms Mutangadura’s failure to state the facts which constituted unjust enrichment in her declaration, she stated false facts.

“It remains a mystery why the plaintiff made all these falsehoods in her declaration when she knew the truth of what happened and that it would come out at trial. The plaintiff being a legal practitioner herself is to blame for the false averments in her declaration.”

The judge said she did not understand why Ms Mutangadura did not read around the law relating to marriages, divorce, matrimonial property rights, distribution of property following dissolution of marriages and maintenance of spouses. Her claim for the loan advanced to Mr Chirume failed after the court found that the former ZSE chief executive settled his debt.