11 October 2017

Zimbabwe: Act Against Self-Styled Prophets, Court Urged

Photo: Daily Monitor
(File photo).

The courts have been urged to act against self-styled prophets, who conveniently take advantage of desperate and unsuspecting believers to milk them of their hard-earned wealth through "seeding".

Opposing an exception application by United Family International Church (UFIc) leader Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa in a matter he is being sued for allegedly brainwashing businessman Mr Upenyu Mashangwa and his wife Blessing and swindling the couple of millions of dollars, Advocate Thabani Mpofu said the practice was now rampant and the courts had the duty to protect unsuspecting victims. Adv Mpofu, who is being instructed by Venturas & Samukange Legal Practitioners, said prophecies that never come true were a form of fraud and the courts should take action and deal with the scourge.

"It may be pointed out and the court is obliged to take judicial notice of the proliferation in the country of self-styled prophets. Those who prey on the religious, taking advantage of the negative economic conditions (sic). The time has come for the court to either interpret existing principles of law or extend them in answering the key question being, whether these prophets are immune from suit if they mislead their followers. This case is important for that reason," reads Mr and Mrs Mashangwa's heads of argument.

The couple -- former members of UFIC -- sued Prophet Makandiwa for millions of dollars alleging that the church leader in 2012 misrepresented that they would encounter a "debt cancellation miracle" and encouraged them to continue "seeding". However, the couple's house in Marlborough, Harare, was later attached and sold for $500 000 instead of $700 000. They are now demanding the $700 000 from Prophet Makandiwa.

The Mashangwas also want Prophet Makandiwa to pay them $1,7 million for recommending a de-registered lawyer, who later duped them. Prophet Makandiwa is said to have prophesied during a UFIC church service that Mr Tichaona Mawere was a brilliant lawyer who would never lose a case. He later advised the couple to engage him in their battle to recover a debt.

The couple was prejudiced of $37 000 in legal fees paid to the bogus lawyer, the court heard. In the heads of argument, Adv Mpofu said the UFIC leader must be man enough to defend himself from the serious allegations levelled against him. Adv Mpofu said the man of cloth should bravely defend himself and stop hiding behind curtains of legalism and subterfuge through exception application and other technical tactics.

"The power of God is undoubted and every believer would believe that God can do anything. The case brought, however, is that God has not spoken to the Makandiwas about debt cancellation and that they abused the name of God and took advantage of their congregants, who believe in the power of God and who were of the view that the "prophets had communion with him".

"A self-respecting and self-proclaimed prophet must react to these allegations and meet them head on. The defendants must plead. They are able to admit, deny or otherwise confess and avoid. The allegations made are not only clear, but have an undoubted legal basis. Whenever a claim is clear, same must be pleaded to," read the heads of argument.

Adv Mpofu questioned how a true prophet would wrongly advise his flock to engage a bogus and de-registered lawyer, Mr Tichaona Mawere. It is alleged that Prophet Makandiwa advertised Mr Mawere as a great lawyer who could never lose a case.

"Having thus trusted Mr Mawere, plaintiffs lost a fortune. They paid unearned legal fees and also lost what they sought to claim. Just how does one who calls themselves a prophet place such trust in a bogus lawyer?

"What is, however, interesting is that, when pushed to the ropes, the defendants (Mr and Mrs Makandiwa) have not sought the services of the great lawyer who has never lost a case. Why then did they want plaintiffs to use a bogus person?

"For this, they must give account and an exception is not the answer required by the court," argued the lawyers.

The court, Adv Mpofu argued, should deal with the so-called seeding practice that has financially prejudiced the believers.

"It requires the court to deal with the so-called 'seeding' practice that has reduced many a believer to penury. Can that kind of religious brainwashing be permitted by the court?

Should the prophets wear their sleek suits and get away with stealing from the tormented?

"These, with respect, are the questions which must be answered by the court. The court can only do so after hearing evidence . . ."

Prophet Makandiwa and his wife are yet to respond to the heads of argument.

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