Retired Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka leaves the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ANA
GOITSEMANG TLHABYE 

FORMER head of the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria Bishop Jo Seoka and the congregants have apologised to each other - but both parties claimed victory yesterday after slugging it out in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, for a week.

The controversial Seoka was suing five people for defamation of character. A settlement was finally agreed on by both parties.

In terms of the settlement, both parties tendered written apologies to each other regarding their role in what led to the breakdown of the parish, strained relationships and the eventual R600000 defamation suit by the retired bishop.

Church warden of the Parish Council of St Alban’s Cathedral, Kuti Mulaudzi, said members were vindicated. The diocese is divided into seven archdeaconries and has 61 parishes, boasting tens of thousands of members.

Mulaudzi said the settlement made the members happy - they never thought Seoka would say sorry to them or that he regretted the action he took against them.

“We never imagined that the bishop would humble himself to the extent of saying sorry to us for the pain and hurt he caused us,” he said. “A lot of people were hurt. Families were broken and Dean Livingstone Ngewu died of the hurt Seoka inflicted on him.

“The dean died owing to the unhappiness between the bishop and clergy he just could not take it anymore. Now for him (Seoka) to apologise for his management and leadership style is something we never expected and we feel happy about that,” said Mulaudzi.

As part of the settlement, the charges of fraudulent, corrupt and dishonest conduct are to be retracted along with the Articles of Presentment against Seoka.

In addition, Seoka will withdraw the legal action against the five members of the church, and each party will pay its own legal costs.

Mulaudzi also offered the olive branch to Seoka, saying they too had apologised for the hurt and pain caused by the Articles of Presentment against him.

The members had never wanted the matter to be taken this far and had been open for discussion, he said. “I mentioned this in church on Sunday, addressing the congregation that we will continue to pray for him (Seoka) to find peace and healing.

“It’s up to him now and he knows where to find us to talk and make peace,” he said.

He was happy that certain crucial information regarding their initial complaints had been documented in court papers, he said.

In the papers it was stated: “To the knowledge of the plaintiff, the consent of the Vestry was required for an expenditure of this nature. No such authorisation was ever sought or obtained by the plaintiff, nor was this misappropriation disclosed to the parish council or to the cathedral parish.

Mulaudzi said; “This is what we have been disputing all along and none of the legal parties disputed these facts.”

However, Seoka dismissed the assertion that he had unwittingly admitted fault in court papers.

He said all he wanted from the beginning was to get an apology and a retraction of the claims about him being a fraudster, and that had been done.

Seoka said: “I have heard that they are saying I lost the case. Let them say what they want, but I got what I wanted. My apology towards them was not to admit guilt or fault, but simply done in a Christian way to say if I did anything wrong I regret that,” he said.

The bishop insisted that his decision to seek legal representation in 2015 was only to ask for an apology - it was not motivated by money.

He said that while church members were still continuing to defame him, alleging he took money from the Vestry, they could not prove it.

Seoka said there was no possible way he could have single-handedly taken funds out of the Vestry on his own and that such was taken as a collective executive decision.

The clergyman was claiming R600000 in damages for alleged defamation - R500000 for damage to his reputation and R100000 for the damages suffered to his dignity.

His claim was against Clement Sibiya as well as counsellor of the Parish of St Alban’s the Martyr, Sibusiso Mnguni, church warden Randy Phasha and priests Nkomonde and Dinga Mpunzi.

He claimed in court papers that 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 R162092 of the diocesan trust fund.