Lawyers representing the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) have argued that the Court of Appeal (CoA) has no jurisdiction to hear a case in which it is challenging a Lobatse High Court decision. The High Court had barred the church from holding a disciplinary hearing against 17 of its members.
The 17 disgruntled members of the Tlokweng Branch had succeeded to interdict the church from holding a disciplinary hearing against them after they challenged the way things are run in Botswana.
Justice Godfrey Nthomiwa agreed with the church members and restrained church leader Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane from holding any disciplinary hearing against them in terms of the Notice to Attend a Disciplinary hearing dated November 20, 2015, pending the outcome of their case before Gaborone High Court judge, Michael Mothobi.
On Friday, attorney Soraya Hassim told CoA that Bishop Lekganyane and the church want the decision by Justice Nthomiwa set aside. They argue that the High Court erred and/or misdirected itself by assuming jurisdiction on a matter involving theological and administrative disputes between church members.
Hassim said that courts should not interfere with internal matters of the church and that it was not within the Botswana courts’ jurisdiction to hear the matter.
“They want the court to interfere in how the church runs its affairs.
They want the court to stop the disciplinary hearing; it’s an internal matter, which the court has no jurisdiction over.
This is a voluntary association,” Hassim argued.
She said that the court could only interfere if the civil rights of the respondents were being violated.
However, attorney Uyapo Ndadi representing the 17 members said that the ZCC constitution of 2009 created an office for the Bishop and that for
Ndadi further argued that Lekganyane was being sued in his official capacity, but not in his personal capacity as the leader of the ZCC “who shall hold office for life”. “He may not be in Botswana physically, but he is sued in his official capacity as clothed by the constitution, he is in Botswana.
Even if he is in Moria, he is still recognised by the constitution that he can be sued in Botswana,” he argued. Moreover, he argued that the appellants’ ground of appeal do not satisfy the rules of the court, and rendering the “appeal in its entirety a nullity”.
“Rule 18(2) states that if grounds of appeal allege misdirection or error of law, particulars must be clearly stated. They ought to have taken steps to demonstrate how the court erred,” he argued. It is said that the 17 members have on several occasions lodged grievances with the church, but with no success.
They also claim that Lekganyane is violating the constitution, as he has not appointed a local church minister to oversee the church in Botswana and that since 2009 no Annual General Meeting has been held as per the constitutional requirement in Botswana.