Durban High Court rules pastor was fired and kicked out of mission house by ‘unconstitutional’ structure, six years later

Pastor ME Phangwa addressing Apostolic Faith Mission Ngwelezane Assembly members this past weekend. Picture: Facebook/AFM Ngwelezane

Pastor ME Phangwa addressing Apostolic Faith Mission Ngwelezane Assembly members this past weekend. Picture: Facebook/AFM Ngwelezane

Published Aug 15, 2023


An interim committee structure of the Apostolic Faith Mission’s Ngwelezane Assembly — who suspended and ultimately fired a pastor — was an unconstitutional structure with no authority, the Durban High Court has ruled.

The committee also had the pastor kicked out of a church-owned mission house after an internal battle for the control of the AFM’s Ngwelezane Assembly pitted the church's governing body against the eight member interim committee.

The court said the committee, which was meant to be a temporary structure, had become the de facto governing body, as it controlled church finances and oversaw the unlawful axing of Pastor ME Phangwa in April 2017, citing he had reached his age of retirement.

The structure was deemed unconstitutional when the court found that it had not been formed by a national structure, as the AFM’s constitution prescribes.

The unconstitutional eight member interim committee included church members: Sibusiso Ndlovu, Khayelihle Ndzimande, Bongani Mngomezulu, Bongani Ndlovu, Bhekuyise Zungu, Bhekithemba Buthelezi, Nkosinathi Ngiba and Musa Thwala.

All eight were respondents in the matter.

The eight took over the running of the church and oversaw Pastor Phangwa’s axing from the church in 2017, writing letters and ordering him to resign control of the church bank accounts.

Durban High Court Judge J Mossop granted a rule nisi order which interdicted the interim committee’s 2017 decision to expel the pastor from the Ngwelezane local assembly, terminate his services and his eviction from a mission house located at Ngwelezane, Empangeni.

Mossop said the the decisions were invalid and of no force and has made the rule nisi order, calling upon the interim committee to show cause by September 23, 2023, why an order should not be made final, declaring their structure an unconstitutional church structure and that it is dissolved with immediate effect.

If the interim committee fails to show cause by September 23, the rule nisi order will become final.

Mossop also declared Phangwa, or any other pastor appointed by the governing body of the church, as the only properly recognised pastor of the AFM Ngwelezane Assembly.

The judge has also confirmed that the governing body of the Ngwelezane local assembly was the only governing structure vested with the authority to govern and manage the affairs of the AFM Ngwelezane Assembly and its branches.

He said this meant only the governing body could operate bank accounts of the church, interdicting the eight committee members from operating any bank accounts pertaining to the church.

“It is common cause that the members of the Interim Committee are the first to eighth respondents. The pastor employed by the Ngwelezane local assembly during 2017, Pastor Phangwa, was initially suspended from his employment and then had his contract of employment terminated. It is alleged that this was at the behest of the individuals who formed the Interim Committee.

“Pastor Phangwa was consequently compelled to vacate the Ngwelezane local assembly mission house that he was entitled to occupy by virtue of his appointment as pastor.

“He was thereafter prevented from preaching to the members of the Ngwelezane local assembly and was forced to preach his pastoral message to those members of the Ngwelezane local assembly flock that remained loyal to him, which included the members of the Ngwelezane local assembly governing body, from other premises situated within the general area of the Ngwelezane local assembly church,” said Mossop.

Mossop found that Pastor Phangwa had been axed and kicked out of the church house because he had reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 but had not retired.

The AFM Constitution noted retirement age as 65, but local assemblies like Ngwelezane were allowed to utilise the services of a retired pastor on a fixed term contract.

This decision could be made by the governing body in the presence of a regional leader, the AFM Constitution said.

The court also heard how Pastor Phangwa reported his expulsion by the interim structure to the regional leaders of the AFM, a day after he had been initially suspended.

The regional structure tried to intervene, but they were blocked as Ndlovu filed a protection order against Pastor Phangwa, which caused complications for the regional office when they tried to intervene.

The interim structure had also, the court found, declined to meet with regional leaders and had the church gates locked when they tried to resolve the matter internally.

“The members of the Interim Committee refused to allow the governing body to gain access to the church and declined to unlock a gate at the church premises.

“It is therefore not surprising that the mediation efforts of the Regional Leadership Forum failed, and the dispute continued to fester,” said Mossop.

The AFM Regional Leadership Forum report, which was finalised in October 2017, found that Pastor Phangwa was the true pastor of the Ngwelezane local assembly, invalidated the interim committee structure, gave authority to the governing body and the pastor to operate the church bank accounts and that any and all accounts against the pastor had to be lodged in accordance with the prescribed grievance procedures contained in the AFM Constitution.

Mossop said the eight members of the unconstitutional interim committee structure had to pay the costs of the application jointly and severally.