Unholy fight  for control of  church land

Unholy fight for control of church land

MASERU – A decades-long fight over the control of the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission Church has turned nasty, with some church members and villagers vowing to fight to the death to resist their eviction.
Some church members faced off with armed police seeking to effect an eviction order last week.
The church, in Maseru’s Motimposo village, has been at the centre of an ownership wrangle for more than three decades following the death of founder Archbishop Solomon Lion.

The wrangle had largely played out in court, until last week when the police attempted to execute a default judgement on behalf of ’Mamotlakase Morakabi, who claims she now owns the land and the church buildings.
Church members, some who live in church houses, openly defied heavily armed police who wanted to eject them out of the premises.
“We will not leave these premises alive,” shouted one woman.

“We do not care whether you are armed with assault rifles,” she cried out, joining hordes of others resisting the police.
Local villagers, many of whom seemed to take sides with the church members, gathered and formed a circle around the police.
Some villagers were hurling insults at the law enforcement agents.

This is part of a wrangle that started in 1983. After the death of founder, Archbishop Solomon Lion, two of his wives and a church member filed an application in the High Court seeking an order to interdict another wife and some members from accessing the premises.
Caswell Nyamathe and the two wives, Elizabeth Lion and ’Maleruo Lion, asked the court to interdict Isaac Mokoena, Paulina Kou, Mojalefa Ramotšo, Simon Tlapana, another wife ’Matšepo Lion and Maria Ramotšo from entering the site.

The Archbishop’s son, David Lion, also claimed to be a heir to the estate, leaving the church torn into
factions.

After hearing arguments and going through piles of evidence by the various claimants, Justice Molai in 1992 ruled that the site could no longer be regarded as personal property of the late Archbishop.

Rather, the property now belonged to the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission church, the judge ruled.
Now, 26 years later, the ownership wrangle still rages on, threatening to spill into violence.
The fight was reignited after ’Mamotlakase Morakabi claimed the property, according to the church members who have been living in the church houses for the past five decades.

Morakabi’s lawyer, Advocate Phororo claims that one of the Archbishop’s wives, ’Matšepiso Lion who stood with the church to win the first case against the other wives, transferred the title deeds to Morakabi.
Phororo said after living on the premises for 17 years, Morakabi decided to build a house on the site.

The church challenged the move and lost, said the lawyer.
He said the church was aware of ’Matšepiso Lion’s transfer of the property’s ownership to Morakabi. Phororo said Matšepiso Lion had a lease for the premises which superseded the church’s own lease.

Phororo said the church even tried to sue ’Matšepiso but the application was dismissed.
Morakabi obtained a default judgement in the High Court for the cancellation of the church’s lease.
It is not clear why the church was not represented in court.

The church applied for rescission but the court dismissed the application. It applied for stay of execution while it approaches the Court of Appeal but the High Court still dismissed its application.

The problem now is that there are no judges in the Court of Appeal and no cases are being heard.
In the meantime, Morakabi is pushing for the execution of the judgement giving her ownership of the property. But, she is up against a determined group of church members.

Church members say they would rather be jailed or die than surrender the property to Morakabi.
One of the church members, Nthabeleng Moorosi, said her great grandparents lived in the church house she is now occupying.
“We are just the guardians of these houses,” Moorosi said. “The houses belong to the church forever,” she said.
Moorosi said members only lose the houses if they leave the church.

“It has been like that until ’Mamotlakase came into the picture,” she said.
A 91-year-old church member, ’Mamoeletsi Moorosi, said she has been living at the church since 1965 when the Principal Chief, then Letsie Theko, allocated the land to Archbishop Solomon Lion.
“This site has always belonged to the church and only the church has the Form C and the title deeds,” she said.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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