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Church dispute spills into High Court

Sello Morake

 

MASERU – The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church leadership is up in arms against a Mokhotlong reverend who has defied an order to be transferred to a parish in Swaziland.

The Reverend Molupe Thabane, who heads the AME in Mokhotlong, has since applied for a High Court order to block his transfer which followed allegations that he had misappropriated monies belonging to a church-run orphanage.

The church leadership was in the High Court Thursday to defend their decision to relocate Thabane to Swaziland.

Thabane’s problems started during the church’s conference last October when the head of the AME in Lesotho, Bishop Earl Mcloud, asked him to produce financial statements for the orphanage.

When Thabane refused to produce the financial statements arguing that he was not responsible for the orphanage’s finances, the conference then produced a letter which showed that he had already accepted his transfer to Swaziland.

The letter showed that Thabane had signed agreeing to be transferred.

But in court papers filed by his lawyer Chris Lephuthing, Thabane said the signature on the letter was forged.

He said he had not signed such a letter.

During the hearing, Lephuthing said his client had not been treated fairly according to the church’s procedures.

“A pastor should be given three months’ notice before being transferred,” Lephuthing said.

“This is a democratic church. It provides for the pastor to be consulted before being transferred by the bishop of the church.”

Lephuthing said the conference had misdirected itself by asking Thabane to account for the monies used at Ts’epong orphanage which was under his administration.

He said the matter was put on the conference’s agenda “maliciously” to push out his client.

“He (Thabane) doesn’t keep money from the orphanage,” Lephuthing argued.

“Thabane is being transferred to Swaziland because he is being punished for his alleged misconduct in relation to the finances.

“The transfer was irregular.

“Every pastor is like a public servant.

“He/she can be transferred anywhere but should be given 90 days to prepare for the transfer.”

Lephuthing said the conference’s request for Thabane to account for the money was also “irregular and improper”.

“Issues of discipline are the domain of the bishop, not of the conference,” he said.

“The accusations were arrogantly raised in that meeting.”

Appearing for the respondents, Thabo Mpaka said the church leadership believed this was an internal matter which should not have been taken to court in the first place.

“It has been the attitude of the respondent that this is an internal matter,” Mpaka said.

“Bishop Earl McLeod will ask for forgiveness to Reverend Thabane.

“We ask the applicant to go to Swaziland as he is transferred.”

Mpaka said some months after Thabane was given his transfer letter the orphanage was burnt down and the church had its windows vandalised.

Some property was also stolen, Mpaka said.

“The leadership of the church spoke in one voice saying that Thabane should go to Swaziland or leave the church as property belonging to the church had been destroyed or stolen in his presence,” he said.

The matter was reported to the police.

Justice Semapo Peete, who presided over the case, advised the warring parties to resolve the matter internally before coming back to the court on March 15.

“I don’t want to make the decision that could split the church into two factions,” he said.

The respondents in the matter were Alphoncina Mohlampe, Reverends IS Morahanye, Solomon Libete, SM Dlukula, JK Leshota and AS Badela.

Thabane has been in the church for 21 years.

He was transferred from Maseru to Mokhotlong in November 2003.

At the time of his transfer Thabane was in charge of the AME’s 15 churches and eight ministers.

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