Holy war over church’s purse

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Members of the International Pentecost Holiness Church pray outside the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria earlier this year in support of elders leading the litigation to have an executive committee led by Tshepiso Modise removed. PHOTO: GALLO IMAGES / SOWETAN / VELI NHLAPO
Members of the International Pentecost Holiness Church pray outside the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria earlier this year in support of elders leading the litigation to have an executive committee led by Tshepiso Modise removed. PHOTO: GALLO IMAGES / SOWETAN / VELI NHLAPO

The battle for control of International Pentecost Holiness Church funds has spewed out into courts as church leaders accuse Tshepiso Modise, the son of the late bishop Glayton Modise (fondly referred to as “the comforter”) of misusing church resources.

They want the church’s bank, Standard Bank, to stop giving sole access to church funds, estimated at R2 billion, to young Modise and allow other senior officials signing rights to the account.

The South Gauteng High Court will have to decide on Tuesday who should have control of and access to the millions of rands in church funds saved in the Standard Bank account. It is believed the ruling will also have an effect on other accounts in two other large South African banks.

City Press has copies of court documents showing church leaders have hauled Standard Bank and Modise to court over access to the funds. The leaders have urgently requested an order seeking to compel Standard Bank to unfreeze the church account and permit the applicants to access it.

In the founding affidavit, made by Reverend Alfred Mohlala, the church states that he was appointed by the church’s body of elders as per the church’s constitution. It requests the court to order the bank to recognise him and grant him rights to access the bank account. It also argues that the bank has prevented the appointed auditors access to the funds to audit the account, which was a violation of an earlier court ruling that authorised the audits to be undertaken.

“Upon the comforter’s [Modise senior’s] passing, Tshepiso claimed that the comforter had appointed him to be his heir and successor in accordance with the church’s constitution. The church, its council, the executive committee of the council and all the other governance structures denied the claim.”

Modise launched an urgent court application to be installed as the new church comforter. A faction of the church opposed the application and this case is still pending before Judge Jody Kollapen. A date has yet to be set for the hearing. However, Kollapen has given a temporary order enabling the current church executives, comprising four persons, to manage the day-to-day running of the church.

According to the court documents, Standard Bank allegedly refused to recognise the exco members and has refused them access to the accounts, saying Modise was the sole signatory.

Mohlala and the church executive, represented by Langa Attorneys, are seeking to compel the bank to grant the newly appointed auditors access to the church accounts to create a layer of accountability.

The dispute, dubbed a “holy war” by the media, has made headlines since the death of the leader. Modise senior died at Mediclinic Morningside, Johannesburg, following a short illness in February this year.

The heated succession battle, now entering its fourth month, has been marred by violence, with some senior members engaged in fights in front of the congregation. In one incident in April, police confirmed that Peter Nkomo (44) died after being pelted with stones at the church’s premises in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, while three other members were seriously injured. The other members were also stoned.

This week, Modise failed to appear before Westonaria Magistrates’ Court on a domestic-violence charge against his stepmother, Nosipho Tafu. The two have laid countercharges against each with the police.

Standard Bank and Modise did not respond to City Press’ e-mails, SMSes and calls by the time of going to print.

Who should have control of and access to church funds?

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