Ricochet News

After years of legal squabbling and fist fights, church sets new trajectory under new leader

By Afikile Lugunya - Feb 9, 2018
After years of legal squabbling and fist fights, church sets new trajectory under new leader

By all accounts things have returned to normal following a long, and sometimes physical, leadership battle that ended up dividing the United Ethiopian Church of Africa (UECA), which is based Port Elizabeth.

Trouble started in 2004, when the founder of the United Ethiopian Church of Africa, Apostle Dr Jackson Mlungisi Masebe, passed away at the age of 86.

He had led the church since 1973 and had seen it get established in the Western and Eastern Cape provinces as well as in the KwaZulu Natal. The church grew in stature to a point where, in 1995, the late former president Nelson Mandela met with Rev Masebe in Butterworth at the UECA Women’s Convention, which was televised.

Rev Masebe also published a number of religious journals among other materials that are now assets of the church. He is credited, among other luminaries, for spreading Christianity among the Xhosa people.

Upon his death, the church’s then Executive Committee apparently stepped in to run the affairs of the church. But, the church’s other body, the Council, argued the Executive Committee had erred and contravened the church’s Constitution.

The Council argued that Rev Masebe’s widow, Nompumelelo Beauty Masebe, who was also then a Bishop of the United Ethiopian Church of Africa, had the mandate of the church’s Constitution to take over the leadership.

What followed was more than ten years of legal squabbling as well as alleged incidents of physical violence at the church’s Zwide headquarters.

The two bickering parties apparently tried to resolve the leadership dispute internally, but the Executive Committee decided to take the matter to court in 2006.

“Their legal action caused a lot of panic, discomfort and anxiety among the church members. However, that culminated in the dissidents being defeated on 27 July 2006 when Judge Johan Froneman ruled in favour of the Church Council,” described Chairperson of National Church Council, Reverend RJ Jonono.

He said that, still, even after the court ruled in favour of the Church Council, the Executive Committee continued to act as the legitimate body in charge and elected Reverend Sondele Victor Ncalu as the new Apostle and President of the United Ethiopian Church of Africa.

According to Rev Jonono, that caused more conflict and confusion in the church as Rev Ncalu allegedly went around the country “misleading church members and misinterpreting the doctrine of the founder”.

On the 12th of March 2007, the Council moved to expel Rev Ncalu and his followers from the church.

However, that did not make any difference as Rev Ncalu was again re-elected to lead the church in 2013 amid pomp and ceremony.

“They did not stop their unlawful actions; they continued holding national gatherings and collecting money in the name of the church, purporting to be office bearers of the church despite their expulsion,” said Rev Jonono.

The Council then opened a court case against Rev Ncalu and his followers, which only came to a conclusion on 14 December 2017.

The courts again ruled in favour of the Church Council for the second time - stating that Dr Masebe’s widow be the one to lead the church – as per the United Ethiopian Church of Africa’s own Constitution.

According to Rev Jonono, before the courts ruled on the matter, Bishop Masebe had been receiving many threats from disgruntled members of the ousted Executive, which also in turn tried to boot her out.

“In an attempt to take over all powers, they then attempted to expel the wife of the founder as they viewed her as a threat to their interests and agreed,” he described.

“They also discriminated against her as a woman. The church then stepped in, intervened and protested the church’s interests.”

He said that they had, however, remained resolute as they knew they were the correct party.

Rev Jonono said that in the December ruling, the Council was granted a court order that restrained the defendants from using the UECA name; purporting to be office bearers of the UECA; organising any national events in the name of the UECA; receiving any funds on behalf of or in the name of UECA, and, wearing the uniform of the UECA, as depicted in the constitution of the UECA adopted on 21 March 2008, or encouraging any of their followers to wear such uniforms.

The respondents were also ordered to pay the costs of the application jointly and severally.

Rev Jonono has since called upon all church members to unite under the new leader Bishop Masebe.

“Despite all the unnecessary, negative challenges and skirmishes brought about by these dissidents and their group, the church, through its leader Bishop Masebe, progressed, in a remarkable way and built ten big churches in a space of few years, fulfilling the vision and the dream of the founder,” he said.

“These churches are at the following places - Ezibeleni in Queenstown; Fort beaufort; Emdeni; Peddie; Qoqodala Village in PE and Makhaza in Cape Town.”

When contacted for comment, Rev Ncalu said that he was not in a position to answer to the court outcome as well as the allegations against him.