Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Court Reporter
A LAWYER who was indecently assaulted by fired Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church pastor Brighton Ndebele is suing the disgraced clergyman and the church for $250 000 in damages.
Ndebele (32) was convicted of indecently assaulting the lawyer in October 2016 by Bulawayo magistrate Ms Adelaide Mbeure and sentenced to 12 months in jail. Three months were suspended for three years on condition that he did not within that period commit a similar offence.
The remaining nine months were further suspended on condition that Ndebele performs 315 hours of community service at Hillside Police Station.
The lawyer is suing the fired pastor and the church for crimen injuria, psychological distress, contumelia and violation of her personal integrity.
In papers filed at the Bulawayo High Court, through her lawyers Dube-Tachiona and Tsvangirai Legal Practitioners, the abused lawyer cited Ndebele, the Zimbabwe Union Conference of the SDA, South Zimbabwe Conference of the SDA and the church’s Bulawayo City Centre branch as respondents.
In her founding affidavit, the lawyer who cannot be named for legal reasons said she was shocked and humiliated when Ndebele took advantage of her.
“By forcing uninvited and unwanted physical, sexual charged contact with me, the first defendant (Ndebele) violated my right to integrity of the body and personality. During the month of June 2016, Ndebele sent me several messages on WhatsApp displaying disdain and mockery to my marital status and injured feelings,” she said.
Although the SDA fired Ndebele, the lawyer insisted in her papers that the church failed to take necessary disciplinary measures against him.
“I aver that the second and third defendants (Zimbabwe Union Conference of the SDA and South Zimbabwe Conference of the SDA) took no steps to investigate my report and complaint against Ndebele and instead chose to interrogate me for making a report to the police,” she said.
According to a letter dated February 23, 2017, the church voted at a church business meeting that Ndebele should be relieved of his duties as a pastor.
The letter, which was addressed to Ndebele, was signed by one P Ncube who is SDA’s Bulawayo City Centre head elder and two church clerks only identified as S Hanyane and N Nyathi.
The lawyer accused the church of failing to offer her counselling. The lawyer said after reporting the abuse to the police, the church declared her an outcast and renegade.
She said she was emotionally and mentally traumatised after the abuse and had to request to be removed from church membership.
“As a result of the actions of the defendants, I suffered serious mental anguish, psychological distress and trauma, injury to my dignity and a violation to my person and family privacy. The church failed to ensure an environment in which all members are safe from sexual harassment and molestation by pastors and any persons affiliated to it,” she said.
On April 20 last year at around midday, Ndebele went to the lawyer’s workplace to discuss church business since the complainant was also a head of social committees in the church.
After the discussion and when he was about to leave office, the pastor solicited for a hug from the complainant and she declined.
He then forcibly pulled the woman by the hand and squeezed her to his chest, before holding her waist and caressed her back and buttocks. She reported the matter to the police leading to Ndebele’s arrest.
The lawyer said the church’s failure to deal with the matter gave her an impression that it accepts as normal “predatory sexual proclivities from its pastors.”
She accused the church of allegedly trying to sweep Pastor Ndebele’s sexual mess under the carpet.
Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi last month blocked SDA from censuring the lawyer’s husband.
His ruling followed an urgent chamber application by the abused lawyer’s husband challenging the church’s decision to slap him with a seven month censure without conducting a proper disciplinary hearing.
The lawyer’s husband argued he was censured by members of the board, deacons and deaconess and elders’ councils for confronting the pastor who indecently harassed his wife and reporting him to the police.
However, the church leadership said the lawyer’s husband was being silenced for disrupting church activities and perpetrating violence.