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Marikana: Bishop under fire for abusing funds

Kwanele Sosibo

Bishop Johannes Seoka has come under fire at the Farlam commission and by a task team investigating his controversial decisions as a religious leader.

On Thursday Seoka faced more tough cross examination on the stand at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana tragedy. (M&G)

 

A report by a four-member task team set up by the Anglican Church Archbishop Thabo Mokgoba to investigate discord in the diocese of Pretoria paints Bishop Johannes Seoka as an authoritarian figure who repeatedly flouted the Canons of the Anglican Church with regards to the disciplining of staff and the usage of Cathedral funds.

Marikana, where 34 miners were shot and killed during a confrontation with police on August 16, falls within Seoka's diocese. The bishop was part of a group of religious leaders who mediated talks between the strikers and mine management.

The task team, which included Marikana Commission of Inquiry chairperson Ian Farlam, Ayanda Mjekula, Palesa Ncholo and David Bannerman, was set up to quell 18 months of discord between the Cathedral Parish, Diocesan structures and the bishop, stemming largely from the dismissal of father Nkosinami Nkomonde, the lengthy prosecution of the dean Lubabalo Livingstone Ngewu (and the use of Cathedral funds to do so), the closing of the cathedral and "the heavy handed treatment" of those who held a different views from him.

The decision by the synod of bishops to appoint a task team to look into the root causes of the discord was taken after Seoka’s decision to close the cathedral and suspend all forms of worship with immediate effect on May 17 2012. The decision to close the cathedral was followed by an urgent high court application on behalf of the cathedral parish and the church council to set aside the closure of the cathedral.

The report deals at length with the prosecution of Ngewu who died while his case was in progress, with the bishop subsequently refusing to  have his picture hung in the cathedral's vestry. The report said "what was seen as the persecution of the dean" was one of the key factors fuelling divisions in the cathedral.  At the time of his death divisions at the cathedral had become so ruptured that two separate memorial services had to be held at two different cathedrals.

Although the report found that Seoka had wrongly used church funds for the prosecution of his dean, it found that an approved loan of R500 000 at an interest rate of 8% repayable over a period of five year existed in connection with a mortgage bond. His detractors had also cited the bond as unlawful use of church funds.

On Thursday Seoka faced more tough cross examination on the stand at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana tragedy, from Lonmin legal counsel Schalk Burger and South African Police Services legal representative Ishmael Semenya.

Burger tried to paint Seoka as an unreliable witness who didn’t remember exactly what Lonmin management had said to him, by pointing out that Seoka didn’t remember certain details about his trips to Lonmin since August 16. His supposed impartiality also came under attack with Burger noting that in a statement released by Seoka on November 12 Seoka morally condemned the killing of miners by police and the planting of weapons but was silent on the murders that had taken place in the week leading up to August 16. Burger also put it to Seoka that his role as a peacemaker was compromised by a lack of background knowledge after Seoka claimed he was not aware that the Lonmin strike was unprotected.  Seoka refuted this, saying had he been allowed to act the killings on August 16 may have been avoided.

Under cross examination by Semenya, Seoka refused to retract his comment that police in South Africa could not be trusted only conceding that: “I have police in my church who are lay ministers, so I have police whom I trust.”

 


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