Controversial clergyman Bishop Jo Seoka is turning to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to claim R600 000 in damages for alleged defamation; R500 000 for damage to his reputation and R100 000 for the damages suffered to his dignity. File picture: Oupa Mokoena/ANA Pictures
Pretoria - Retired Bishop Jo Seoka is embroiled in a bitter legal battle with leaders of the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria and a member of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) following allegations that he embezzled funds in his time as head of the church.

The controversial clergyman had been exonerated of the allegations by an investigating committee of the diocese in 2012.

The Diocese of Pretoria is divided into seven archdeaconries and has 61 parishes.

Seoka is this week turning to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to claim R600 000 in damages for alleged defamation; R500 000 for damage to his reputation and R100 000 for the damages suffered to his dignity.

He is claiming the money from the NPA’s Clement Sibiya; as well as counsellor of the Parish of St Alban's the Martyr Sibusiso Mnguni; church warden Randy Phasha, and priests Nkosinami Nkomonde and Dinga Mpunzi.

Seoka claimed his good name and reputation were tarnished by the defendants, who in April 2012 signed and issued a document titled Articles of Presentment, accusing him of misappropriating R162 092 of the diocesan trust fund.

He said in court papers he was also accused in the document of misusing church funds in 2009 - the defendants said he misappropriated R500 000 to pay for a mortgage bond to buy a private home for him and his wife.

The document containing the accusations was sent to the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and members of the diocese in general.

Seoka said the document and the statements were published by the defendants with the intention to defame him and cause injury to his reputation and dignity.

Anyone who read the document and statements would believe he was guilty of various forms of dishonesty and improper conduct, Seoka said. The defendants refused to apologise to him or withdraw the document.

It is understood that the defendants are set on fighting the allegations that they had defamed Seoka when he headed the Diocese of Pretoria from 1998 to 2016 before he was replaced by Bishop Allan Kannemeyer.

Between 2011 and 2012, the diocese was rocked by controversy. Matters came to a head when parishioners protested outside St Alban’s Cathedral and subsequently went to court challenging Seoka's decision to close the church. They accused him of abusing his authority. Seoka dismissed the allegations as malicious, saying they were made by a small section of the parish community.

He became unpopular for taking stringent measures to discipline “insubordinate” church members and was reported to the office of the Bishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in Cape Town.

A high-level team of senior bishops convened tasked with investigating the allegations. Their initial report noted “heavy-handed” treatment of those who held different views from those of the bishop. The report, later replaced by another, also found Seoka had not complied with the canons when he dismissed Nkomonde in 2010.

Nkomonde’s dismissal was viewed as unfair by parishioners, who took Seoka to the CCMA.

The suspension of Dean Livingstone Ngewu on charges of insubordination and undermining the bishop’s authority widened the rift between Seoka and the clergy. It worsened when the priest died before the process was finalised.

Police, at the time confirmed they were investigating allegations of the misuse of church funds. When the report was released, it quoted the flouting of procedures in the use of money, lack of consultation, irregular proceedings and misunderstandings as the reason for the strife in the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria.

The task team said those accusing Seoka of misusing money “were not rabble rousers, but professional people of integrity who love their church and who therefore stand up when things go wrong. Among their ranks are highly educated people of integrity, who are members of learned professions.”

The team also probed the closure of the cathedral that led to parishioners taking the bishop to court.

The bishop told the task team he faced a lack of respect for his office and person; the disruption of services; and distrust between him and those he disagreed with.

He could not allow a clique to decide the future of the diocese, he said.

The task team found the closure of the cathedral without first warning the congregation was “heavy handed, unwise and inappropriate in the circumstances”.

Pretoria News