A High Court judge has set a November 5 trial date for the United Family International Church (UFIC) leader Emmanuel Makandiwa and his wife Ruth who stand accused by a Harare couple of “fake prophecies, fraud and defamation.”
The High Court has rejected a request by Makandiwa’s lawyers to throw out a suit by Harare businessman Blessing and his spouse Upenyu Mashangwa — who claim they were ripped off of a staggering $6,5 million by the self-styled prophet — as frivolous and vexatious ostensibly because the court is not equipped to inquire into matters beyond the earthly realm.
High Court judge David Mangota dismissed the UFIC power couple’s application saying the Mashangwas’ claims were grounded in alleged fraudulent activities and not in a contract.
The registrar of the High Court has since set down the matter for a hearing.
“Take notice that this matter has been set-down for hearing on the opposed roll before Honourable (Owen) Tagu J on November 5, 2018 in court L as number 2 at 10:am,” read the notice of set-down, signed by M. Sithole for the registrar.
The Mashangwas alleged in court papers that Makandiwa in 2012 misrepresented that they would encounter a “debt cancellation miracle” before encouraging them to continue giving to the church. The couple reportedly gave Makandiwa a total of $700 000 in tithes.
But, the couple’s house in Marlborough in Harare, was later attached and sold for $500 000 instead of $700 000 and are demanding the same amount from Makandiwa.
However, Makandiwa, through his lawyer Lewis Uriri from The Temple Bar, said in his heads of argument the claim is embarrassing and is not premised on any cause of action.
“The plaintiffs (Mashangwas) did not plead undue influence or duress to influence paying varying sums being contributions to any of the defendants (Makandiwas). “In other words, the plaintiffs are seeking to invite a secular court to inquire into matters of faith and the observance thereof being matters in respect of which a secular court is not equipped to inquire into.
“The present application is in substance an ecclesiastic dispute to which ‘neutral principles of law’ does not apply.
“In the form it has been launched, the present application necessarily requires an inquiry into matter of faith, church practice and doctrine,” the court heard.
Last year, the Mashangwas slapped the Makandiwas with the multi-million lawsuits after they had realised that the so-called debt cancellation miracle had come to nought and that their business fortunes were plummeting.
The Mashangwas are also demanding $2 million compensation, claiming their name was used to advance Makandiwa’s interests, adding that he also defamed them using newspaper articles.
They further claimed that they made several contributions to Makandiwa’s church hoping to reap rewards.
However, Makandiwa has rubbished the claims.
In their court application filed at the High Court early this year, Makandiwa and his wife urged the High Court to dismiss the application since it was meant “to harass, vex and injure their reputation and good standing”.
Makandiwa denied ever making the couple’s “debt cancellation prophecy” saying he had nothing to do with the misfortunes that befell his erstwhile church members.
Correspondence between the Makandiwas and the Mashangwas show that the two almost reached a settlement albeit on a set of conditions.
Last year on February 13, a director of finance for UFIC one E Hwenga, upon receiving a letter from the Mashangwas who were demanding their tithes back, acknowledged receipt of the letter but said it could only be returned under certain conditions.
“We, refer to the above captioned reference and to your letter of February 4 (2017) addressed to the prophet (Makandiwa). Your letter has been referred to us for a response. We wish to categorically state from the onset, that any tithe from congregants in our flock is a free will offering which for all intents and purposes is non-refundable……however, the prophet has instructed us to pay you back as you demand to ensure that you are satisfied and feel fully recompensed,” read part of the letter.
Again last year in March, Makandiwa’s lawyers wrote to Mashangwas’ lawyers then, Messrs Mutamangira and Associates, expressing a willingness to pay back the tithes.
“As your client (Mashangwa) might be well aware, our client (UFIC) has no legal obligation to refund a free will offering and is well within its rights to do so.
However, for purposes of peace, our client insists on all the conditions set out in its letter,” Manase and Manase Legal Practitioners said.
A few days later on March 14, 2017, Mashangwas’ lawyers insisted that Makandiwas had an obligation to pay.
“Your client (Makandiwa) specifically undertook to refund any person who claims all that he or she has given to the church.
“Your client being a person of integrity cannot surely deny what he publicly stated.
“We appreciate that this undertaking might have been made without anticipation that someone bold as our client would step up and out and claim all that she has given to the ministry which from the look of things is no means significant.
“For a sum of more than $700 000 to have been given by our client to your client during a period of harsh economic times, is shocking to anyone, more shocking will be how your client who claims to be a man of peace and understanding will want to fight, given the genuine reasons our client has raised.”