The leadership battle in the Apostolic Faith Mission in Zimbabwe (AFM) yesterday reached final victory for Bishop Amon Dubie Madawo and his supporters when the Supreme Court upheld a previous High Court decision and agreed that a 2018 meeting which purported to change the leadership was void.
But the group loyal to Bishop Cossam Chiangwa, whose appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court, announced that they would form a separate body, if possible remaining under Apostolic Faith Mission International but otherwise as a separate church, and would continue occupying church property until legally evicted.
After the meeting on September 22, 2018 which purported to dismiss Bishop Madawo and appoint Bishop Chiangwa as church president, a civil suit was launched in the High Court and the following year Justice David Mangota agreed that the meeting had no powers to make any decisions and that Bishop Madawo remained the church leader.
Yesterday, a three-judge appeal bench comprising Justices Susan Mavangira, Lavender Makoni and Samuel Kudya dismissed the appeal mounted by Bishop Chiangwa, Amon Chinyemba, Nathan Nhira, Shepherd Sebata, Apostolic Faith Mission in Zimbabwe, Donald Mdoni, Arthur Nhamburo and M Mashumba.
The court found that the Bishop Chiangwa group did not have the legal standing to launch their application in the High Court seeking recognition of their leadership, because their claim to office was anchored on their initial meeting of 22 September 2018, which was void from the very start and of no force or effect.
The group led by Bishop Madawo did, as the elected office bears of the church, have the legal standing to make their application to have the 2018 meeting nullified. So the appeal court upheld the High Court judgement.
The first application was for the nullification of the 2018 meeting and all subsequent acts following from it.
Bishop Madawo, AFM, Aspher Madziyire, Munyaradzi Shumba, Tawanda Nyambirai, Clever Mupakaidzwa, Briton Tembo and Christopher Chembere, were cited as respondents in the appeal.
In a post judgment address yesterday, Bishop Madawo said the Bishop Chiangwa faction had been doing illegal things since 2019 but that under his leadership the AFM would follow due processes in implementing the orders of the court and recovering control of the church’s assets.
“The court dismissed the appeal by Chiangwa and others concerning their claim that they are legitimate leaders of the AFM in Zimbabwe. What that means is that all what they were doing since 22nd of September 2019 was illegal.
“Going forward, legitimate leadership of the church will follow due process in implementing the orders of the court including running the places of worship and recovering control of the church’s assets,” he said.
Bishop Madawo urged the church members to remain calm and not take the law into their own hands.
Pastors who lost office were not pushed out of the church, as they had not been excommunicated. They still retain the membership of church but not as pastors. For the past two years, we have done a serious exercise of recruiting pastors and we are still recruiting pastors.
“We are saying even pastors who had gone to the other side, if they want to come back we are willing to accept them but there are going to be due process to be followed,” he said.
But the losing group headed by Bishop Chiangwa now appears ready to go it alone and yesterday announced that it was considering legal measures to maintain occupation of church property, although would be guided by lawyers.
In a post-judgment statement through the group’s secretary general ,Reverend Nathan Nhira, said they will not tire in fighting for their place in the church.
Their biggest fight at this stage is no longer about the leadership of the church, but about control of the church’s assets, which they say was not dealt with in the Supreme Court judgment. While conceding to have lost control of the church, Rev Nhira they will continue using the name of the church, logo and encouraged members using or occupying church premises to stay put.
“On behalf of the president, Rev. C. Chiangwa, the deputy president, Rev. A. Chinyemba, and the entire Apostolic Council, whose mandate is to direct the affairs of the church in between Workers Councils, the much awaited Supreme Court judgment has finally been pronounced, he said.
“It is with a heavy heart that I announce that our prayer to the Supreme Court has not been granted, instead, our brothers’ prayer has been granted. Our meeting of the 22nd September, 2020, and its successive actions have been nullified.
“We acknowledge the judgment in its entirety, and are obviously consulting our lawyers on the appropriate action from now henceforth. As we await the court order, it is important to state that, according to our brothers’ prayer to the court, it is just the nullification of the meeting of the 22nd September 2018 meeting which has been achieved, their prayer did not address the issues of assets and properties, no it did not.
Rev Nhira said there were valid mitigatory factors to be considered on assets and properties, and everyone occupying church buildings and all those with church properties and assets should not be intimidated into surrendering anything immediately without due legal process .
“We will only act on legitimate dislodgment orders, which can be only be served by the Messenger of Court or Deputy Sherriff, with the appropriate notices,” he said.
But he said those in church buildings and mission houses should urgently start looking for alternative places of worship and accommodation.
Rev Nhira vowed not to abide by the new church’s constitution which he described as draconian, adding that all their structures at national, provincial and assembly levels, remain in place with the Theological Seminary and its campuses remaining functional. All elected and appointed leaders of the group also remain in place, he said.
“We are re-constituting ourselves. We still part of AFM International and hence we can still use the logo again until AFM International excludes us from its affiliate membership, then we will design an appropriate logo and move on to establish our own International forum,” said Rev Nhira.