HOPES to build bridges between warring camps in one of the biggest churches in Zimbabwe — the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) — have been dashed as the factions continue counter-plotting against each other despite international mediation to break the stalemate.
With over 2 million members countrywide, the AFM has been teetering on the brink of a nasty split after a faction led by Reverend Amon Madawo and another under Rev Cossam Chiyangwa have been fighting over the adoption of a new church constitution.
Rev Madawo took over leadership from Rev Aspher Madziyire who had served for 16 years before passing the baton in 2018.
The fight erupted after Rev Madziyire initiated a process to reconfigure the AFM constitution to make sure pastors — whether in towns or rural areas — earned the same salary in line with a new grading system.
The draft constitution also seeks to limit the collection of “pastors’ appreciation” where church members give offerings to the church leader and his spouse.
Rev Chiyangwa broke ranks and opposed the constitutional changes.
This resulted in the two factions electing parallel leaderships with one led by Rev Madawo and the other siding with Rev Chiyangwa.
The legitimacy battle has since spilled into the courts and is yet to be decided.
The AFM International led by its president Professor Frank Chikane has been sucked into the cat-fight.
Rev Chiyangwa’s spokesman Rev Togara Mapingura attacked the Madawo camp for negotiating in bad faith.
He said Prof Chikane was determined to break the deadlock starting with a meeting he held with the Madawo faction in December 2018 before meeting Rev Chiyangwa on January 31.
Prof Chikane also met the apostolic council, 800 pastors and their spouses belonging to the Chiyangwa group last month, as part of efforts to reunite the fighting church factions.
As a preliminary stage for dialogue, the two camps agreed to immediately stop the messy mudslinging and also agreed that no faction should disrupt the other camp’s church activities.
AFM International also ordered the factions to withdraw pending court cases over the church leadership wrangle.
Rev Mapingura said their group was disappointed after the Madawo camp moved to block a Widows Single Mothers Conference (WISMO) last week.
Apparently, the Madawo group held its WISMO between January 30 and February 2, 2019 at Rufaro Conference Centre in Chatsworth.
The Chiyangwa led executive then decided to host its WISMO on February 7, 2019 at the same venue.
This is when all hell broke loose as the Madawo leadership picked a fight by booking the venue for another prayer meeting when they were aware that their counterparts were scheduled to host a widows’ conference.
Rev Madawo, on February 4, 2019, went behind Rev Chiyangwa’s back and sought a High Court order to block the WISMO.
As the widows meeting was going on at Rufaro on February 7, 2019, Rev Madawo’s camp, which was armed with a court order to stop the meeting, invaded the prayer session to disperse the gathering.
This was in violation of an agreement that no camp should disrupt another group’s church activities.
Rev Chiyangwa then appealed against the High Court decision at the Supreme Court where he won the case to continue with the WISMO.
On the same day on February 8, 2019, Rev Madawo approached the High Court seeking a stay of execution which was dismissed.
The Chiyangwa widows and singles meeting was then held on Saturday and Sunday under a heavy police presence.
This marked the collapse of the dialogue as the factions have continued warring.
Rev Mapingura said: “We thought Rev Madawo was genuine but they are plotting against us at a time (when) we are saying let’s discuss the matter.
“We had said they should withdraw the suspension of 400 pastors; withdraw court cases; throw away the draft constitution. This will never happen and it spoils the dialogue.”
The Chiyangwa camp is infuriated that Rev Madawo will lead a Workers’ Council — a decision making body of the church — on Saturday at Rufaro Conference Centre where the draft constitution will be adopted.
Rev Madawo told The Sunday Mail that he was not at liberty to discuss the Saturday meeting.
“Let’s talk after 23 February (2019). Otherwise we don’t want our issues to be published in newspapers; we want to keep out of the public eye,” he said.
Rev Madawo said his group was open for dialogue and met with Rev Chikane in South Africa on February 13 and 14.
“Chiyangwa didn’t attend because he’s in Ethiopia while his other team members are in Australia. We are setting the ground for dialogue to solve our sticking issues,” he said.
Rev Mapingura said Rev Chiyangwa was expected to travel to South Africa on February 25, 2019 to meet Prof Chikane.
For the past two years, AFM has been divided over the draft constitution and some pastors are quitting the church in droves to start new ministries.
Fist-fights have been captured on videos which went viral in 2018 as the AFM factions battle for the control of the mega church.
Some pastors are fighting for the control of assets as they claim to have sacrificed their personal finances to build church buildings.
The key question that remains unanswered is whether the AFM fight is about proper running of the church or it’s just the love of money?