Tussle over multimillion-rand church

Johannesburg - A congregant’s greed is believed to be at the centre of a dispute involving the auctioning of a property that houses a multimillion-rand church in Orange Grove.

The property was supposed to have been auctioned last Thursday when congregants descended on the sheriff’s office. Holding placards and milling around as bidding was going on inside, their message was clear to potential bidders: Do not in any way bid for the property on 64 Garden Road, Orange Grove.

Daniel Tao Alamba, Pastor Jean Jean Moombo's secretary, begged Absa bank to allow the Amen Tabernacle Church in Orange Grove to pay the outstanding amount on the bond. Pictures: Motshwari Mofokeng. Credit: THE STAR

The auction on the building was eventually cancelled and the congregants, along with their pastor, breathed a sigh of relief. However, trouble at 64 Garden Road is far from over.

Twelve years ago, Pastor Jean Jean Moombo of Amen Tabernacle wanted to build a church, but did not have a South African ID book.

A congregant who was also from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, like the pastor, offered to help as “he had been in the country for a long time and knows how things work”.

The church allegedly gave the congregant R30 000 to secure a loan to buy the R650 000 property where the church would be built. The man put tenants in the house and was told to pay off the bond with rental money.

A few years later, the R4 million church was built.

Moombo said trouble started when ownership of the property was supposed to be changed into his name as per agreement with the congregant after he got his papers.

The man allegedly demanded that he be paid R3m as the church was built on “his” property. When the church refused, matters got worse, said Moombo’s secretary, Daniela Alamba.

“He wanted the church demolished. We called the police and in a meeting with them he called us kwerekweres (foreigners) to our faces, saying they must not bother with us. He then locked the gates and put security guards outside. After two years being locked out, we forced our way back into the church,” he said.

Moombo said he was not surprised by how things had turned out, stating that the man laying ownership claims on the church had been motivated by greed. “Even Jesus was betrayed by Judas for money,” the angry pastor said.

The congregants found out four weeks ago that the bank had repossessed the property and was auctioning it.

It emerged that the congregant, who has now gone back to the DRC, had not been keeping up with bond payments on the property. Alamba said they had pleaded with the bank to allow them to pay whatever the man owed so they could keep their church. But their requests had fallen on deaf ears.

Absa spokesman Byron Kennedy said the bank could not negotiate with an outside party that was not duly mandated to act on behalf of a customer.

The church’s attorney Richard Behrmann said they were engaged in negotiations with “other interested parties”.