A VICTORIA FALLS magistrate has barred court officials from taking sides in a dispute pitting factions fighting for the control of the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) of Africa church following violent clashes between congregants in the resort town.
By Nokuthaba Dlamini
Resident magistrate Lindiwe Maphosa made the ruling on Wednesday after a faction led by Reverend Clement Nyathi sought to have its rivals led by AFM leader reverend Tony Tshuma charged with contempt of court for using the church’s Mkhosana Township branch.
Nyathi argued that previous court rulings had removed Tshuma as the church leader, and his followers had no right to use the Mkhosana premises.
But Maphosa said there were pending appeals against the rulings at the Supreme Court and a lower court could not interfere with the processes.
The contempt of court charges arose on August 7, 2015 after church elders aligned to Tshuma conducted a church service at the Mkhosana branch, leading to their arrest.
The High Court had on June 25, 2015 barred Tshuma’s followers from using AFM premises as he was no longer the leader.
Maphosa said the appeal to the Supreme Court against the High Court ruling automatically suspended the judgment that barred Tshuma’s group from using the premises.
She said Nyathi’s faction could have made a court application for an execution of the eviction order pending the appeal.
“In the absence of such application a court order seizes to be effective until determination of the appeal,” Maphosa said.
“The defence has furnished the court with a copy of the appeal noted at the Supreme Court in case number SC 351/15, this, therefore means that the writ of ejectment was suspended by the appeal to the Supreme Court.
“There can,therefore, be no talk of contempt of court in the act by the accused persons of entering the Apostolic Faith Mission of Africa premises.”
The deputy sheriff Kudakwashe Chingoma and Hebert Chidangu were accused of denying Tshuma’s group access to the church premises.
“We have gone to police and they advised that we come back to court,” Tshuma’s group told the magistrate. “The sheriffs are always taking sides and we are disadvantaged.”
Tshuma’s group said they lost groceries worth $1 000 during their violent arrests last year and nothing had been recovered.
“They started by dragging the pastor outside with his trousers, followed by us church elders,” Nhanga told Southern Eye after the court ruling.
“Everyone was told to leave the church immediately. We were made to believe that we were going to negotiate with the police officer in charge before we continued with our church service.
“However, we were locked up for three nights before we were released on $400 bail each.”
The battle for the control of AFM Church has been raging in the courts for some time with a faction linked to Nyathi fighting tooth and nail to force Tshuma out.