A splinter group that created a schism in the Evangelical Church of Zimbabwe (ECZ) cannot lay claim to control of the church or its property, the High Court has ruled ordering the assemblage to surrender the church assets to the rightful owners.
ECZ is made up of 132 congregations locally and one in Mozambique, and owns Karanda Mission Hospital in Mt Darwin, which draws patients from all over the country.
Legally, that control remains with the church and the splinter group of Reverend Benson Makachi, Mr Mugava, Simon Nota, Silas Gweshe, Gibson Mutsaka, Everson Breakfast, David Chiveso and Fredson Gama that had wrestled control -- is no longer part of the church and is barred from using the church's name, buildings and regalia.
The ruling comes after ECZ, which was being represented by Professor Lovemore Madhuku, instructed by Mapondera and Company, had approached the court seeking an order declaring that the group is no longer part of its members.
The church also sought an order interdicting the eight against the use of the church's name, its regalia and properties and for them to surrender church property and that they be evicted from the church property.
The parties agreed during a pre-trial conference that the church council split into two entities which call themselves ECZ and both of them were running the affairs of the church.
Following the split Rev Makachi-led faction held on to the church properties and had been using the church and regalia. The faction's lawyers confirmed this when they claimed that their clients were no longer subject to the ECZ authority, when the church wanted to discipline them for misconduct.
It was on that basis that Justice Joseph Musakwa ruled in favour of the ECZ, finding that the faction had created a schism in the church. This is a separation of a church into two churches or the secession of a group owing to doctrinal or disciplinary differences and where secession occurs the secessionists would not be entitled to the property of the church.
"The defendants created schism in the church. This is because in opposing the election of (current Bishop) Isaac Soda, they arrogated themselves positions in the church and purportedly dismissed members of the church council," said Justice Musakwa.
"They did not seek a valid process of nullifying Isaac Soda's election."
The judge also found that during the trial the eight did not challenge the assertion that they defied attempts to have them disciplined by the church. He said a person who created a schism cannot be heard to claim that he has not withdrawn from the church.
"It also follows that the defendants cannot hold on to the property belonging to or controlled by the church," said Justice Musakwa.
ECZ leadership wrangles are not new as the court has dealt with four other cases involving the same parties since 2015. Mr Webster Jiti of Zimudzi and Associates appeared for Rev Makachi and his other seven co-respondents.