For 25 years, the family of the late Reverend Edison Jekapu Phiri has been fighting to reclaim its 227-hectare Sichi Estate in Kasungu. But the slow-turning wheels of justice have frustrated its efforts.
The estate, located in Chaima Village in the area of Traditional Authority Santhe, was sold in 1995 at K2.5 million. However, the transaction was later reversed.
Court documents we have seen indicate that Steve Mtupanyama Chalanda, the buyer, had paid K230 000 of the K2.5 million price tag before the transaction was reversed.
However, despite the transaction being reversed, the buyer obtained title deeds for the estate from the Ministry of Lands.
Details in the civil cause number 744 of 2016 show that Phiri died in 2013 but had appointed his children Jekapu Phiri Junior, Mirriam Jekapu Phiri and Lunati Jekapu Phiri as his administrators.
The court documents show that the buyer allegedly forged the signature of Traditional Authority Chaima. The attempt was foiled later by a police handwriting expert.
From that time, the family had been fighting with the purported buyer in court before a final judgement on the matter was made in 2016, ordering that the estate’s ownership should revert to the family.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Mirriam said despite the court order giving them relief, the buyer has not honoured arrangements to give back the estate.
She said: “We have faced all sorts of torture on the matter and we have also spent so much money hiring lawyers so that justice prevails.
“I even had to sell my house which was valued at K78 million to pay all five lawyers that we had until the final judgement was delivered.”
Mirriam said on four occasions, their case files at the courts went missing days before judgement was to be pronounced.
She said such setbacks prompted them to refer the matter back to the traditional leaders where they were initially advised to seek help from the Ministry of Lands.
But while they were lucky in the 2016 ruling, the buyer appealed which was later dismissed by High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire.
In his appeal, Chalanda wanted the court to, among others, declare him the rightful owner of the estate, grant him a permanent order restraining the family from going to the estate, consider the family’s actions as trespassing and costs and damages for trespassing and damaged property.
However, on November 6 2017, the family filed their affidavits opposing the application on the basis that they had letters of administration for limited grant and that Chalanda was not the proprietor of the estate as well as that he had forged some signatures as per a police handwriting expert.
The family also argued that their deceased father never handed title documents to Chalanda and that they had tendered a letter dated June 20 2008 from the regional lands commissioner for the Central Region where it was resolved that the land be given back to the family.
In his July 24 2018 ruling, Mkandawire dismissed Chalanda’s appeal with costs on the basis that if he wanted to prosecute the matter, he should have had authentic title deeds to the land.
But two years later today, the family’s struggles are far from over.
Their recent attempts to leave their documents with a secretary at Ministry of Lands offices in Lilongwe yielded negative results as they unfortunately disappeared.
But according to Mirriam, the family engaged the Human Rights Defenders Coalition and had a direct engagement with Minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa and his deputy Abida Mia.
In an interview on Monday, HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence acknowledged being approached on the matter and said they are engaging the ministry to intervene.
On his part, Msukwa also acknowledged that the matter was brought before the ministry. He, however, said he needed to consult the ministry’s officers on progress of the issue.