Wrangle over church building drags on

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courtTefo Tefo

A LONGSTANDING dispute over the ownership of the Moshoeshoe Berea Bible Readers Church building in Thuoathe plateau was heard in the High Court yesterday with a retired judge, Justice Gabriel Mofolo, being called back to preside over the case.

The dispute over the use of the building dates back to 1982 when members of the family of the church founder, Walter Matita Phakoa, denied members of another faction access.

The argument by the family members was that the building and the late “Prophet” Matita’s monument were their property as they were on the family’s site.

In August 1982, the High Court set conditions by which congregants could visit the building and the late Mr Matita’s monument which are both in the Phakoa family’s site.

The conditions were that the building and the monument would still be under the care of the family, who in turn should allow the congregation access for worship purposes.

However, some of the senior church officials, Reverend Thabo Oriel Nthako and Nkoebele Phakoa, in 2009 filed an application in the High Court seeking the court to grand them and their congregation unlimited access to the premises.

They accused the Phakoa family of denying them access to the site where they intended to perform religious rites.

The officials argued that, although the church and the monument were within the Phakoa family’s site, they remained church property.

The case – which was lodged by a way of an application – was turned into a trial after the court considered that there was a material dispute of facts regarding the ownership of the church building.

It was also meant to allow the inclusion of oral evidence that could be tested through questions.

In her testimony yesterday, Ha-Motšoene Chieftainess ‘Mawalter Motšoene told the court it was “impossible” for a church to be built on an individual’s site.

She was testifying on behalf of Noee Phakoa and Mothibeli Phakoa who are first and second respondents respectively in the proceedings.

Chieftainess Motšoene, however, said she did not have the records of her predecessor in the chieftainship office which would have ascertained the owners of the place.

The chieftainess said she knew one Malakia Phakoa as the owner of the site on which the church was built.

Malakia was the representative of Aaron Matobako who took over the running of the church following the demise of Prophet Matita at the age of 50 years in 1935. Following his relocation to South Africa, Mr Matobako appointed Malakia as his representative in Lesotho.

Mr Matobako was the general overseer of the church both in Lesotho and South Africa where the church also had members.

However, the lawyer representing the applicants, Attorney Khotso Nthontho said the church building does not belong to an individual but to the entire congregation.

“If the church building was a personal property, the late King Moshoeshoe II would not have gone to officiate at the unveiling of the stone,” he said.

The stone on the church building was unveiled in 1986.

Meanwhile, Justice Mofolo postponed the case to today.

The retired judge said he had to read the papers filed in court so that he could follow the proceedings because it was an old case.

“I have to adjourn now so that I can have time to go through the papers. This is to enable me to follow the proceedings properly. This is an old matter and it should not be taken for granted,” said Justice Mofolo.

“I also have to travel a long distance to Leribe, where I am staying, so I need to get there in time so that I have an opportunity to peruse through the papers.”

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