Reinstate banned priests, orders court
Mmegi Online 16.10.08
BAME PIETStaff Writer
LOBATSE: High Court Judge, Key Dingake, has ordered that the suspended priests from the Anglican Church be reinstated and continue preaching the word of God.
The seven priests - Aubrey Molatlhwe, Botshabelo Beleme, Moreri Leteemane, Mooketsi Mokgatlhe, Paul Beleme, Essau Mosima (deceased), an d Patrick Ncaagae - will continue preaching at their congregations of Lobatse, Molepolole, Mahalapye, Broadhurst, Mogoditshane, Selibe Phikwe and Tonota with immediate effect.
Anglican Diocese of Botswana's Bishop Trevor Mwamba revoked their licences late last year, accusing them of contravening the Constitution and Canons of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. On the other hand the priests contended that he was pushing them out to pave way for foreigners, mostly from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"The decision by the bishop to withdraw and revoke applicants' licences to practise as priests of the Anglican Church is hereby set aside as being contrary to the Acts of Diocese of Botswana and or the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church," Justice Dingake said. The costs were not awarded to any of the parties.
The seven priests went to the High Court after the matter could not be settled within the church. The court based its judgement on argument on the which of the Church Acts were applicable to the dispute; whether or not the applicants were employees of the Anglican Church; and what procedure the bishop should follow in revoking priests' licences.
It emerged during the hearing that someone trampled on the church Acts and had failed to notify the Registrar of Societies, as required. The attorney for the priests, Kgalalelo Monthe, had argued that the amendments should be nullified because they were not filed with the Registrar of Societies. He contended that it was not clear when the amendments were made. Justice Dingake concurred, saying it would be improper to recognise the amendments that were never filed with the registrar.
He stated that it was imperative to do so to avoid a situation where societies operate on two parallel constitutions. "This would be a recipe for disaster. I therefore, hold that any amendments by an exempted society that does not comply with Section 13 (1) of the Societies Act are invalid," Justice Dingake said. Furthermore, the judge found affidavits by Bishop Mwamba and Father Moleko, about the amendments, as "palpably insufficient to enable me to conclude that the amendments were effective as alleged. All I can say is that I am not convinced that such amendments were effected."
Justice Dingake also ruled that the bishop should have given the priests a hearing before revoking their licences. He said that they were never properly informed of the charges against them nor given the opportunity to respond thereto. "I cannot agree with the submission made by Mr Vegeer, that because the church is a voluntary association, the principles of natural justice do not apply to it," he said. He said voluntary associations have the obligation to treat their members fairly by complying with their constitutions.
Quoting RC5 document, the judge ruled that the priests were Anglican Church employees.
He said that there was overwhelming evidence that the priests were church employees, contrary to arguments raised by the bishop.