In the diaries of the Zambian justice system, there can be few examples of just how broken the justice system is than the case of Robert Chimambo.
The sight of Mulungushi House, the sprawling gloomy grey-brick multi-storey building – along Independence Avenue, overlooking cabinet office puts Chimambo and others in a depressing mood.
Chimambo has been to this building – the seat of the Ministry of Lands on many occasions, to try and establish how strangers displaying ostensibly valid title deeds, allegedly issued by government have occupied his land which he has legally owned since the 1980s.
Before the strangers descended on his land, Chimambo had been fighting a long and protracted battle to save Forest Reserve 27 in Lusaka, from being turned into housing and other property developments.
Former President Edgar Lungu degazetted the forest as an environmentally protected area in August 2017.
Activists say the lifting of the environmental protection of the area by the President is puzzling, since it has long been known that the area is an indispensable water and nature resource for Lusaka. It was originally gazetted in 1957 as a nature reserve for this very reason and furthermore, re-gazetted again in 1996 by then President Chiluba.
No plausible reason for the degazetting by Lungu has been given.
Chimambo is now involved in another battle to protect his farm adjoining Forest 27 in State Lodge area which has been occupied by some unknown people. He believes he is being attacked because of the stance he took on Forest 27.
“The cadres (party supporters of the former ruling party) who I found cutting down trees on my land blatantly told me that because I stopped them with Forest 27, they were here to take away my land,” Chimambo said. “The people working on these pieces of land say the people who own the said plots were high officials – former ministers, senior police officers and a judge.”
Chimambo has visited the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources on Independence Avenue in search of new occupants of part of his land. The officers do not welcome anyone seeking information and the ministry’s land title deeds record is not easily publicly accessible.
The Senior Land Surveyor General, Winston Mumba confirmed that the Ministry received a letter from Chimambo requesting for help with boundary markings in October this year.
“We have not yet gone on the ground to asses the situation but once he gives us permission to do so, we shall do some boundary marking on his land”, he explained.
The Surveyor General Joseph Minango said the questions by Makanday would only be answered when the Ministry investigates the matter. He also directed this reporter to the office of the permanent secretary to get more information on the issue.
Chimambo said he does not know the names of all the people who have occupied his land. He estimates that they could be about fifteen.
There is however, an ongoing case in which Samuel Nyirongo has been accused of criminal trespass.
"The only thing that has happened is that the Judge has only heard the plaintiff’s injunction application (which was dismissed in August) and he is yet to hear our application which we filed on 21st July this year," said Bernard Musendema, the lawyer representing Chimambo.
“I’m a lawyer and so, I can’t comment on that, you can go to the High Court and research,” said Nyirongo. “It was taken to court three months ago.”
The court records obtained by Makanday show that the matter in which Nyirongo had earlier sued Chimambo was dismissed by High Court Judge Charles Zulu for lack of evidence. Nyirongo had accused Chimambo of criminal trespass.
“The Plaintiff herein has not made out a prima facie case to tilt the balance of justice more in his favour than the Defendant. Therefore, the application is dismissed with costs in the cause,” read part of the judgment.
Police are handling a separate but related case in which Chimambo reported Nyirongo to Woodlands Police Station for criminal trespass.
“That matter was reported at Woodlands police station and the dockets were requested for by the district,” said James Masiye, Deputy Commissioner of Police, who was then Officer in Charge at Woodlands.
He said both the complainant and accused produced title deeds claiming ownership of the same land.
Back at the Ministry, senior land surveyor, Mumba said:
“We don’t know who Mr Nyirongo is because he has not come to the ministry of lands and for us tocomment, we need to see the title.”
The Permanent Secretary has not replied to MkanaDay’s request for an interview.
Civil society groups, including Caritas Zambia, Transparency International Zambia, Action Aid Zambia, and the Zambia Land Alliance have come to the defence of Chimambo describing what is happening as “harassments and threats on his personal safety and the security of his property”.
“As CSOs, we do not view this as an isolated incident but rather a targeted attempt of intimidation and harassment of activists and human rights defenders in order to shut them up,” said the CSOs in a joint statement issued on 31st July this year.
The group asked the police to take charge and arrest the people “who are harassing, threatening and intimidating Mr. Chimambo and his family”.
As for Chimambo, the sight of Mulungushi House, will continue to depress his mood until his matter is resolved.
To show the damage caused by human activities and property developments to Forest 27, MakanDay used Google Earth Timelapse to get these two photos showing changes that have taken place over a ten-year period.