Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Court Reporter
THOUSANDS of congregants from the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) of Portland Oregon in Southern Africa have been left “homeless” after they were, together with their leader Reverend Richard Sibanda, evicted from the church premises in Bulawayo’s Pelandaba suburb.
The Deputy Sheriff of the High Court on Friday arrived at the church’s headquarters building and ordered congregants, some from as far as Swaziland and Cape Town in South Africa who had come for a meeting, to vacate the church acting on orders of the leader of the rival camp Reverend Oniyas Gumbo.
The latest development follows a recent Supreme Court ruling which barred Rev Richard Sibanda from controlling the church properties after the parent church in Portland, Oregon, United States of America, suspended him in 2012.
The suspension was however, shelved by the High Court last week following an ex-parte urgent chamber application for a declaratur, which Rev Sibanda had filed challenging his six-year-old suspension pending the finalisation of the matter.
Bulawayo High Court judge, Justice Martin Makonese, nullified the suspension and ruled that it was unlawful.
“The execution of the order of suspension of the applicant through the letter of 25 January 2012 and upheld by the disciplinary tribunal on 23 March 2012 be and hereby suspended,” ruled the judge.
In papers before the court, the AFM of Portland Oregon in Southern Africa and its US-based superintendent-general Rev Darrel Lee, were cited as respondents.
Rev Sibanda, through his lawyer, Mr Zibusiso Ncube of Ncube and Partners, argued that his continued suspension for a period in excess of six years is ultra vires (beyond one’s legal power or authority) in terms of the constitution of the church and that of the country.
Rev Sibanda argued that his suspension was an act of persecution on his person by a few misguided elements in the church.
He said he was first persecuted in 2005 when his rivals revolted against his leadership. Rev Sibanda argued that his suspension letter and the charges preferred against him were not in compliance with the laws of the country.
Church spokesperson, Mr Maurice Dube, said the evictions were illegal because they were extended to the generality of the church members including two board members, Reverends Luther Mateza and Julius Matope who were cited as respondents in the Supreme Court judgment.
“The operative part of the Supreme Court judgment, which these people (Rev Gumbo camp) used does not affect two other board members who were cited in the court papers, let alone the congregants who were also evicted. Clearly, this is a violation of the law and we are definitely going to challenge this action. How can you evict a person from his or her own house, which they build? Those people who are being evicted are actually the same people who own church properties,” he said.
According to the Supreme Court judgment delivered by Justice Ben Hlatshwayo, who was sitting with Justices Marie-Anne Gowora and Tendai Uchena, Rev Sibanda was ordered to immediately relinquish possession and use of all church properties both movable and immovable by virtue of his suspension.
The AFM of Portland Oregon has since 2005 been locked in a leadership dispute pitting a faction led by Rev Gumbo against the leadership of Rev Sibanda and three board members Reverends Matope, Mateza and the late Rev Jonah Munondo over control of the local chapter of the church.
The parent church in Portland, Oregon, which is sympathetic to Rev Gumbo’s camp, accuses Rev Sibanda of seizing control of the local church.
In 2011, Rev Lee, who is the head of the parent church, visited Zimbabwe and Rev Sibanda allegedly barred him from accessing church properties prompting the matter to spill to the courts.
The development led to further tension between the warring parties and in 2012 the parent church suspended Rev Sibanda from his position for allegedly breaching the cannons of the church and violating spiritual doctrines by continuously taking church matters to court.
The church, which was founded by Rev Morgan Sengwayo in 1955 and later affiliated to Portland, Oregon, has since 1985 been plagued by numerous divisions which resulted in splinter groups. — @mashnets