Alpha's financiers could lose out as council ponders cancelling title deeds

Financial institutions that bankrolled Alpha Construction could be left in a lurch if the Bulawayo City Council decides to cancel title deeds that were issued through the contractor as this would leave them without collateral.

Alpha Construction, which is owned by Bulawayo businessman Jonathan Gapare, was awarded a contract to develop stands and build at least 502 houses in Cowdray Park nearly eight years ago, but has failed to complete the job.

The council terminated the contract last month and is now planning to service the stands. It may, however, be forced to cancel title deeds issued through Alpha because of multiple allocations of stands by the company.

The company is reported to have allocated several stands to more than one person. Town Clerk, Moffat Ndlovu, said though it would be quite costly to cancel the title deeds, the council may have no option to sort out the mess as it is presently not clear how many people were affected.

"We are quite aware that by cancelling the title deeds, companies that gave loans to their employees, for example, will have no collateral, but we may have no choice," Ndlovu said.

Residents, who have been battling to get Alpha to sort out the mess, welcomed the move because they are also worried about reports that Alpha used some of the title deeds to secure loans without the knowledge of the owners.

Alpha is reported to have secured loans from at least three financial institutions, one commercial and two linked to the government.

Though Alpha has brushed off stories published so far claiming that everything is on course, reality finally dawned on the company last week when it received the letter from the council cancelling the contract.

The company is now making frantic efforts to salvage the contract. Gapare allegedly met the resident minister and governor for Bulawayo, Cain Mathema, last Thursday and the executive mayor of Bulawayo, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, on Friday.

Mathema, however, denied meeting Gapare or Alpha representatives and professed ignorance about the problems at Cowdray Park.

Documents, however, show that residents of Cowdray Park section 12, wrote to Mathema on 4 October briefing him about the situation and asking him to help them.

"The Cowdray Park Section 12 residents who bought houses (on) the piece of land allocated to Alpha Construction company which is under J.M.Gapare, have a number of similar grievances," the residents wrote to Mathema.

"The land was allocated to Alpha Construction company by the Bulawayo City Council as far back as 1996, but up to date the houses are semi developed and the land is not fully serviced despite monies that we paid for the construction of the houses and the servicing of the land.

"In some cases some stands have been sold to more than one client. We have been to a number of Bulawayo City Council offices, ZRP who transferred our case to the CID fraud squad section and the contractor himself to have the problem solved but all in vain.

"Stands and houses that have been double or triple allocated to clients are: 6711 allocated to Thebe and Sibanda, 6767 to Ncube and Msimanga, 6697 to Nkosi and Nsimbi, 6701 to Mtimkhulu and Sibanda, 6716 to Chariot and Jele, 6702 to Ngwenya and Mavura, 6914 to Khumalo and Nyathi.

"What worries us most is that 6711 and 6702 are registered to each of the clients, that is to say both clients have the title deeds of the same property." The number of houses with more than one title deed is reported to have since shot up to15 as residents continue to come forward to the Section 12 Residents Association with information.

"As highlighted in the first paragraph," the letter continues, "we bought houses as far back as 1996 but up to today most houses are incomplete and we have been charged extra charges outside the agreement of sale as the contractor claimed that prices of materials have gone up yet he is the one who prolonged (to complete) his project."

According to the council, 261 houses were complete and occupied but only 64 of these had been issued certificates of occupation by the council. A staggering 106 stands were still undeveloped, two were at slab level, 10 at window level, 52 at wall-plate level, 83 at roof level , while two were occupied but did not have toilets.

"The contractor is reluctant to give us our title deeds despite the full payment we made for our houses as he still claims that we owe him these (ridiculous) charges," the letter continues.

"Some residents are made to occupy other people's houses by Alpha while waiting for theirs to be completed but are later or sooner pushed out by the owners," the letter says.

In an apparent response to the letter Mathema told the Sunday News of 24 October that he was investigating indigenous building contractors who had been accused of building sub-standard houses and selling houses to several clients.

He was quoted as saying he had received representations from citizens of Bulawayo complaining about contractors who were doing them a "big disservice".

The mayor acknowledged that Gapare had met him on Friday but he said he had advised him to put whatever he wanted to say in writing. Gapare had not yet submitted his report.

*In another development in Cowdray Park, the council is to allocate 338 stands that were serviced and abandoned by Zimmal to people on its housing waiting list.

Zimmal, which was a joint venture between Zimbabweans and Malaysians, was allocated 10 000 stands in July 1996 at a cost of $10 million.

The company, which was initially headed by Themba Sibanda, now executive director of the Children of Africa Development Initiative (COADI), paid a deposit of $1 290 666 .

The council withdrew the stands in March 1999 after the company abandoned the site and its deposit was treated as a full purchase price for 1 290 stands. By October last year 223 houses had been completed and occupied, 209 stands were serviced but not developed while 858 stands were not developed.

Like in the case of Alpha, the press had reported way back in December 1997 that the company had completed construction of 500 houses at a cost of $30 million and these were to be commissioned by the then executive mayor Abel Siwela.

Zimmal was also reported to have $5 billion and intended to build 50 000 houses countrywide.

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