BY PETER MAKOSSAH
Tabitha Chawinga’s eye for the goal is legendary, but she was oblivious to stopping this. While topping the scoring charts in foreign land with her feat, she trusted others to help her acquire assets at home. It has turned nasty and heartbreaking, particularly in one episode where the country’s biggest soccer star attempted to buy a house.
Chawinga, who trades as TC11 Investment, coughed out an astonishing K101 million for the house.
She first bought the house for K53 million, and two years later, a Bank hounded her to pay K85 million or face repossession for the same house that she bought, but after negotiating, she was allowed to settle in ten instalments of K8.5 million every month. She paid K48 million, besides spending more millions in renovating the house.
However, a search for the property revealed that the title deeds were bogus, and the Bank had no power over the house. She was made to pay K48 million.
Now, she is suing a man and his wife, Centenary Bank, formerly MyBucks Bank, and the Republic of Malawi, through the Attorney General, for Ministry of Lands officers’ involvement in the land criminal consortium.
“It is true, and I feel very angry about everything. They took advantage of me,” Chawinga, who is currently in France after just being signed on Loan from China by one of the European football giants, Paris St. Germain (PSG), from her Chinese club, Wuhan Jianghan University, told PIJ in an interview.
The Soccer Chief
The saga begins from the time Chawinga was still playing in China. Renowned musicians and twins Ephraim and William Zonda, who ply trade under the Gospel choir, Great Angels, approached Chawinga to purchase the House in Chitipi, on the outskirts of Lilongwe, along the Lilongwe-Mchinji road.
The Zonda twins organised some lawyers alongside Zakaria and his wife to arrange for a sale agreement in which the global football star paid K53 million as a full payment for the house.
Then, later, an ardent Mukuru Mighty Wanderers football fanatic, Mike Butawo, telephoned Tabitha Chawinga and told her to act quickly by paying the money to the Bank because if she did not act fast, they would repossess the house.
She enlisted her sister, Isabel Chawinga, to act on her behalf, assisted by some lawyers she had hired. Her sister bought a house from a couple, football official Zacharia Nyirenda and his wife Joyce, at the price of MK53 million. Nyirenda refused to comment on the case, citing ongoing legal proceedings.
Former SULOM VICE General Secretary Zacharia Nyirenda
Nyirenda is a renowned football administrator with an albeit chequered history. In 2021, the Super League of Malawi (Sulom) was forced to fire Nyirenda from his position for allegedly misappropriating K2.8 million gate revenue from a match between Silver Strikers and Nyasa Big Bullets.
The house sold to the nimble-footed forward was purportedly registered under the Title Number Chitipi 7/1/101. Later, MyBucks Banking Corporation, now known as Centenary Bank, revealed they owned the property.
Chawinga has proof that she paid the full purchase price. But question marks emerge from the Land Certificate she was given after the payment. She says she was given a Land Certificate for Title Number Chitipi 7/1/100, which was for bare land, instead of Title Number Chitipi 7/1/101 as per the Sale Agreement of the house. Nonetheless, Chawinga took hold of the house and undertook massive and extensive renovations before moving her mother and siblings to live there.
Yet, two years after the purchase, in June 2022, MyBucks Banking Corporation sent its valuers to value the house and threatened to sell it because Zacharia Nyirenda had not paid his loan to the Bank.
Zacharia found himself in a tight spot, caught between the looming legal battle and the pressing need to clarify his role in the unfolding saga. When approached by PIJ for his perspective on the matter, he cautiously responded, “Thank you for contacting me; however, I cannot comment on the said matter as it is before the Courts or Law.”
His reluctance to share his side of the story only added to the intrigue surrounding this complex case. As the legal proceedings continued to unfold, the question lingered: What was Zacharia’s role in the series of events that had ensnared Tabitha Chawinga in a web of deception and fraud?
With so many unanswered questions and many legal intricacies yet to be unravelled, Zacharia’s silence only deepened the mystery surrounding this convoluted house sale. As the case went through the courts, one could only wonder whether the truth would eventually come to light, shedding much-needed clarity on the circumstances that had led to this unfortunate ordeal.
The bank threatened to evict the Chawinga family, leaving the former DD Sunshine star with no option but to negotiate with the Bank to keep the house. Despite her previous expenditures while buying and renovating the house, MyBucks demanded a payment of MK85 million from Tabitha.
Fearing her beloved mum and siblings would be made homeless, Tabitha again agreed to pay. This time around, she said she decided to settle in ten instalments.
But the twists and turns were far from over. After paying about MK48 million of the MK85 million, it was discovered that, in fact, the Bank had no control over Title Number Chitipi – 7/1/100 or Title Number Chitipi – 7/1/101 and that instead, the Bank had a Charge over Title Number Chitipi – 7/1/1/76.
All three Title Numbers were registered in the name of Zacharia Nyirenda and or his wife, Joyce Nyirenda, but Nyirenda had put the house as collateral when obtaining a loan.
In an interview, Centenary Banking Corporation Company Secretary and Head of Legal Services Alfred Mumba declined to comment on the matter, citing ongoing court proceedings.
“Unfortunately, since the matter is already in court, the Bank will not comment. The Bank will allow the court system to determine the matter,” says Counsel Mumba.
Chawinga was distraught by the turn of events but unsure of what to do. After confiding her situation to a friend, she advised her to take legal action to fight back. She was first referred to a lawyer, Innocent Kubwalo, who attempted to negotiate a settlement with Nyirenda.
“On getting the instructions from the client, we looked at the sale agreement and the land certificate that the client said was given to her by Mr Nyirenda as proof of full liquidation of the loan. We immediately noted that while the sale agreement purported to sell the house of Title Number Chitipi 7/1/101 to the client, the land certificate was for Title Number Chitipi 7/1/100. We proceeded to invite Mr. Nyirenda for a meeting. When we sought his explanation on the matter, he informed us that the truth of the matter was that the loan that encumbered the house was still in arrears and admitted that the land certificate that he gave to the client was for a different property,” recalled Kubwalo in an interview.
The lawyer, who no longer represents Chawinga in the matter, said Nyirenda admitted to creating an impression on Chawinga that the money she paid to purchase the house had been used to clear the bank loan fully.
Kubwalo said Nyirenda then confirmed he still owed the bank MK70,000,000.00 but, when asked how he intended to clear the debt, said he “would talk to the bank.”
In the circumstances, the house seller, Zacharia Nyirenda and his wife Joyce demanded that the sum of MK19 million is paid to them at the time of executing the Sale Agreement and that instalments pay the balance of MK34 million to enable him to pay off the loan to the bank.
Chawinga’s lawyer, Charles Mhango, argues that Nyirenda, his wife, Joyce, and MyBucks Banking Corporation deliberately misled Chawinga into signing the respective Sale Agreements to swindle her off her hard-earned money.
“I strongly believe it was a synchronised plot to defraud our client. What happened here is an organised crime, and we have taken the necessary legal action against those involved,” he told PIJ in an interview.
Mhango has since filed a court application to join the state in a case against the government of Nyirendas and the bank.
Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda confirmed in a separate interview the legal action from Chawinga’s lawyers, saying his office is looking into the matter and will decide in due course on the way forward.
“I can confirm that my office has received Tabitha Chawinga’s claims against the government officers through her lawyers, and in the time being, we are looking into the matter and (as a government) we will give our position soon on the matter as we are done with it,” said Nyirenda.
The Attorney General added that his office was aware of a criminal syndicate on fraudulent land sales at the Ministry of Lands, adding investigations are underway to establish the truth of the matter.
“We are investigating the criminal activities reportedly going on at the Ministry of Lands as regards fraudulent land and house sales, and we will bring to book anyone who the finger of evidence points at,” says Chakaka Nyirenda in a matter-of-fact tone.
Suspect Title Deeds
All the Bank’s Assets
In June 2020, MyBucks Bank sent a valuer, Mr Tiya Wawanya, to conduct a property valuation on the house. Still, he reportedly informed the MyBucks Bank that he could not go ahead with the valuation of the house as it belonged to someone else and not the Bank, per the documents reviewed.
There are other questions over the acquisition of the land Title Number 7/1/76. Theana Msolomba, Chawinga’s friend turned manager who helped launch her legal case against the Nyirendas, discovered that the Title Number Chitipi – 7/1/76 in the Land Register does not fall into the sequence of Application Numbers, which should follow linear order.
Shockingly, the 2014 register, which contained the suspected fraudulent registrations, then vanished from the Land Registry, raising fears that it was a deep-rooted criminal syndicate.
“When I discovered that the officials at lands were just as dubious, I paid for an official search and hired an independent expert to verify and validate the search on the three titles and numbers and there we were face to face with the truth, two Title numbers 7/1/100 and 7/1/101 were vacant pieces of land while Title Number 7/1/76 was a property which was 300 metres away from the house Tabitha bought,” Msolomba recalled.
The case went to commercial court, but neither the Bank nor Zacharia and his wife contested and subsequently, a default judgement was passed in favour of Chawinga, and it was ruled that Tabitha be refunded her money from MyBucks bank with interest, a further compensation for the trauma she went through during the ordeal.
For Chawinga, the saga has brought more heartbreak than she has suffered on the field of play, but at least there is a silver lining.
For those who tormented and tortured her and her family, stole her hard-earned fortune and thought they had won, the tables are now turning. Just hours after PIJ approached the Nyirendas for comment, we discovered the disgraced football official’s heartbreaking confession to Chawinga, apologising for how he treated her.
“Ndinakulakwirani koposa chemwali,” I wronged you deeply my sister. He wrote in vernacular Chichewa via the messaging platform WhatsApp, translated by PIJ. ”My life is cursed, and nothing works regardless of what I do. I lack food at home sometimes, and even when I get a job, I do not last more than five months; I am always fired. I have helped many people in this life, but I didn’t help you; I wronged you. From deep down my heart, please forgive me.”
Something Smells Fishy
Theana Anastasia Msolomba, a financial educator and a physical and emotional wellness expert, embarked on an educational trip to Italy. During her visit, she decided to attend the Milan Derby in the Italian Serie A Women’s Football League, where Inter Milan clashed with AC Milan, two age-old rivals. She aimed to support her fellow Malawian, Tabitha Chawinga, who was on loan from a Chinese team then.
As Msolomba and Chawinga formed a friendship, Chawinga confided in her about some suspicious dealings regarding selling her house. Msolomba pledged to investigate upon her return to Malawi. Once back home, her instincts told her something was amiss, prompting her to inquire about the property.
To her surprise, it was revealed that MyBucks Bank, which had been demanding K85 million and receiving K10.5 million monthly from Chawinga, had no legitimate claim over Title number Chitipi 7/1/101 or Title number Chitipi 7/1/100. Instead, the bank held a charge over Title number Chitipi 7/1/76, which later turned out to be registered in the name of Mr. Zacharia Nyirenda and his wife, Mrs. Joyce Nyirenda.
In January 2019, Zachariah Nyirenda, formerly the General Secretary of the now-defunct Masters Security Football Club, made a significant career move by stepping down from his position to pursue the Vice General Secretary’s role at the Super League of Malawi (Sulom). He successfully secured the position, but his tenure in this new role was marred by controversy.
Two years later, in June 2021, Zachariah Nyirenda faced the unfortunate consequence of his dismissal from the position. This decision came amidst serious allegations of misappropriating K2.8 million in gate revenue generated from a highly publicized match between Silver Strikers and Nyasa Big Bullets, which had taken place on May 8. This unexpected turn of events marked a turbulent chapter in Zachariah Nyirenda’s professional journey within Malawian football, leaving his reputation and career prospects uncertain.
In response to the escalating complexities of her situation, Chawinga decided to appoint Msolomba as her local manager, entrusting him with the responsibility of overseeing her affairs. Upon delving further into the investigation, it became evident that Malawi’s renowned gospel ensemble, the Great Angels Singers, comprised of twins Ephraim and William Zonda, had played a pivotal role in enticing Chawinga into purchasing a property in Chitipi.
Collaborating with lawyers and the Nyirenda couple, the Zonda twins had orchestrated a sale agreement in which Chawinga paid a substantial upfront sum of K53 million for the house. This transaction, seemingly straightforward at first, would soon reveal its convoluted intricacies.
Chawinga then appointed Msolomba as her local manager to oversee her affairs. Further investigation disclosed that Malawi’s renowned gospel outfit, Great Angels singers, comprising twins Ephraim and William Zonda, had enticed Chawinga into buying a property in Chitipi. With the assistance of lawyers and the Nyirenda couple, the Zonda twins had facilitated a sale agreement in which Chawinga paid K53 million for the house upfront.
When PIJ approached the twins, Ephraim promised to get back to us but did not, while William indicated that he knew the story, but it was impossible to discuss it over the phone.
However, a fervent supporter of Mukuru Mighty Wanderers football, Mike Butawo, contacted Chawinga and urged her to promptly settle the bank’s demands to prevent them from repossessing the house.
When PIJ spoke to Butao, he could neither deny nor admit that he ever spoke to Tabitha but only said:
“I don’t know how to comment on the matter because I am not sure how I would benefit in any way if I encouraged her to ensure that the house she bought is not repossessed.”
During the investigation, it was established that Chawinga had requested a survey of the three title numbers. The survey revealed that Title number Chitipi 7/1/101 and Title Chitipi 7/1/100 were mere vacant plots, while the coordinates for Title Chitipi 7/1/76 led to a property owned by Mr. Lanjesi.
Suspicion arose when the Land Registrar, Anthony Mzima, convened a meeting of concerned parties instead of releasing the survey report. Notably, he had deliberately omitted Title number 7/1/76. When questioned about this omission, Mzima cryptically responded, “Zimenezo sizikuthandizani zitayeni.”
When PIJ explained to Mzima about the allegation and how he handled the matter and asked him to provide his side of the story through a WhatsApp message, he only read the message and never bothered to respond.
The Truth Comes to Light
Mr. Mike Dhaka conducted the official verification of the search, and it confirmed the search was fraudulent. Insider sources revealed during the investigation that the Bank’s valuer, Mr Chisi, had attempted to influence Mr Dhaka in the Bank’s favour but was refused.
Additionally, it was discovered that the registration records for the three Title Numbers indicated that Title Number Chitipi 7/1/100 and Title Chitipi 7/1/101 were registered on August 22, 2014, as application number 1454/2014, while Title Number 7/1/76 was registered a month later on November 28, 2014. This raised suspicions about the fraudulent registration of Title Number 7/1/76, as it did not follow the sequential order of application numbers.
In a surprising turn of events, the 2014 register containing the fraudulent registrations mysteriously disappeared from the Land Registry, reinforcing the notion of a deep-rooted criminal syndicate at play.
Msolomba, when interviewed, remarked, “Everything was shady, flawed, and suspicious. I sensed something was awry from the behaviour of the Bank officers, the Land registry staff, and everyone else involved. It was evident that this was a scheme to defraud Tabitha.”
Further investigations and an independent expert confirmed that two of the title numbers, 7/1/100 and 7/1/101, represented vacant land. At the same time, Title Number 7/1/76 was a property located 300 meters away from the house Chawinga had purchased.
Msolomba revealed that at one point, some lawyers brought alleged surveyors claiming to be from the Surveyor General’s office. However, when asked for official identification, they could not produce any, and they vanished when threatened with a call to the Surveyor General’s office to verify their legitimacy.
Taking Legal Action
With the assistance of new Mhango Lawyers, Tabitha Chawinga initiated a case against Zacharia and Joyce Nyirenda and MyBucks Banking Corporation. She sought the cancellation of the Sale Agreements and related orders and declarations, including the recognition of the house she purchased as unregistered property, with the freedom to register it in her name.
The case proceeded to the commercial court, where both the Bank and the Nyirenda couple chose not to contest. Consequently, a default judgment ruled in favour of Tabitha Chawinga, ordering MyBucks Bank to refund her money with interest and provide compensation for the trauma she had endured throughout the ordeal.
Msolomba raised the question, “Centenary Bank, formerly MyBucks Bank, collected K48 million from Tabitha Chawinga for a house they had no legal claim over, bearing a fake Title number. Now, they challenge the default judgment and refuse to return Tabitha’s hard-earned money. Is that fair?”