As the battle to control the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) church in Zimbabwe rages on, the church’s president Reverend Aspher Madziyire, on Wednesday suspended vice-president Reverend Cossum Chiangwa and his allies without salary and benefits. After their suspension, Madziyire set up a four-member committee that includes Reverend Titus Murefu, Reverend Munjeri, Reverend Manyika and Shumba to be in charge of the affected provinces. Reverend Chiangwa (CC) on Thursday told The Standard Style’s reporter Winstone Antonio (WA) that a “cartel” led by Madziyire had allegedly plotted to personalise the church using salary discrepancies for pastors as an excuse. He said Madziyire’s alliance of elite church members had sought to introduce secularism within the AFM family through the proposed constitutional amendments. Below are excerpts from the interview.
the style interview with Winstone Antonio
WA: There are rumours that you have quit the AFM church, what is your current position in the church?
CC: That rumour is grossly incorrect. I am in AFM and I have always been in AFM and I will never quit AFM. Currently, I am the acting president of the AFM church in Zimbabwe after the church’s highest decision-making body [the National Worker’s Council (NWC)], which was attended by over 1 500 councillors out of 2 056, passed a vote of no-confidence in Reverend Madziyire. The council then elected me to act as president until elections are held at the end of October in accordance with the AFM in Zimbabwe constitution. My appointment to that acting position by the NWC was actually superintended over by the church’s most senior retired president, Dr Enos Manyika, who also superintended over the passing of the no-confidence vote.
WA: You have been labelled a rebel in the church and that you are fanning divisions. How far true is that?
CC: I have never rebelled against anyone in the church and I will never do that for anything. All that I have stood up against is the unprocedural rewriting of our church’s constitution, which risks secularising the church. Protecting the legacy of the church is not rebellion at all. I am a pastor over and above being an overseer or deputy president. I have an obligation to guard against anything that poses danger to the flock. The draft constitution is cultic. I have stood with more than 80% of the AFM pastors, elders, deacons and congregants to say no to the cultic constitution. Even the mother body, AFM International (AFMI), persuaded them not to impose the constitution on the church. So all those people [pastors, councillors and AFMI] cannot be called rebels. Rebels are those that are trying to change the constitution to suit their own selfish needs.
WA: From your own perspective, what has caused the chaos and wrangles in the church?
CC: As I indicated earlier on, the whole problem only revolves around the attempt by Reverend Madziyire and his team to smuggle a constitution that meets their selfish needs. They have ignored the constitutional way of amending our own constitution. Section 12:6 of the constitution clearly spells out how amendments should be done. Those who were supposed to have been consulted in the whole process are the ones who have expressed their displeasure with the whole process.
WA: We have seen reports that you are averse to a new constitution. is it about what it proposes or you are just against the idea?
CC: For the avoidance of doubt, please take note of the following areas in the new constitution which we are saying no to:
The new constitution has a lot of doctrinal discrepancies, which make it totally incompatible with the AFM in Zimbabwe church or any other member of the AFM international. It has changed the confession of our faith. It elevates prophecy to the level of God’s Word. It requires us to baptise pamapopoma ( at waterfalls). It makes someone a member of the church by birth, not by repentance. I have just mentioned a few.
From its birth, AFM uses the Presbyterian system of governance. The new constitution is a departure from Presbyterianism as it takes the direction of Episcopal and congregational systems. It’s actually a confusing concoction of the two. AFM in Zimbabwe has also been led by pastors at assembly level who are assisted by a board of elders and overseers lead the provinces assisted by provincial committees. The new constitution seeks to reverse this and turn the church into an elder-led body. Another conspicuous departure from the real AFM is the abolition of the role of the pastor’s wife. From time immemorial, the pastor’s wife has led the ladies department with close consultations with the pastor. This has been so against a background that more than 70% of AFM members are ladies. Now a lay worker (deaconess) has to be voted to lead the ladies department from assembly to national level.
The new constitution is awash with very secular concepts. One of them is the emphasis on the income an assembly can have in order to qualify to be an assembly. It has to be known that AFM has grown through leaps and bounds not because of focus on money, but focus on souls. The Great Commission has been our call to duty, not money. The new constitution seeks to dissolve all assemblies which do not meet a certain income level regardless of the number of souls who are at the assembly. All pastors at such assemblies would be transferred to a provincial pool where they can only be assigned to evangelism duties when need arises. Pastors have interpreted that as constructive dismissal yet they have God’s call to acquit.
The second secular concept is the introduction of the AFM in Zimbabwe Judiciary Authority, which will have a lower and appellate court manned by fulltime judges. There is nowhere in church history where such a structure has been found in the sacred domains.
The third secular concept is the Consolidated Revenue Fund. It has to be noted that for the past 16 years AFM in Zimbabwe finances have never been audited and the leadership has blatantly refused to have the books audited. Their refusal comes against a lot of speculation that there is gross financial misappropriation. It is for that reason that congregations are resisting the move to pool resources together until financial accountability is guaranteed. So far, it is only the forensic audit which can prove that AFM has a good financial management system. Without it, no one will buy-in to the idea of centralisation of funds.
The other source of resistance against the new constitution is the motive behind the reforms. Unfortunately, Mr Tawanda Nyambirai, who was spearheading the reforms process had an audio recording that went viral in which he admitted that Reverend Madziyire requested him to change the constitution so that he would leave the church in the hands of his secretary Reverend Amon Madawo. None of them stood up to refute Mr Nyambirai’s claims in the audio. That left all stakeholders feeling that the whole exercise is just being pushed in order to manage a succession plan while in the process it damages the church.
WA: You are accused of having been plotting against Reverend Madziyire for many years. how far true is that and what has been the source of your misunderstanding?
CC: This is not my first time to serve as Reverend Madziyire’s deputy. I once served a full three-year term and this is the second one. If I had been a threat to him as alleged, he would not have allowed me to deputise him for the second time. As a sitting president, he always had control over who is voted to deputise him. The fact that he allowed the electorate to vote for me is clear indication that there was no rivalry between us. I am surprised that now it’s me who is accused of being a rival because when Reverend Titus Innocent Murefu was the deputy president, he was always referred to as the rival, not me. It, therefore, means that Dr Madziyire always labels his deputies as rivals. So, I am not at all surprised.
WA: What has your relationship been like with the president and do you wish to take over his post as claimed?
CC: My relationship with Reverend Madziyire has always been cordial. I submitted to him in every manner that a deputy could do. In AFM in Zimbabwe it is not for an individual to decide whether or not they want to be president. You only become a president because people have voted for you, first as an overseer, then second as president. For now, I have been appointed as the acting president by the NWC by virtue of the position that I occupied as deputy president. The elections will determine if I will be president or not, not me. But at this juncture, I want you to know that I did not come to be where I am because of any canvassing for positions. First and foremost, I value being a Christian and I value the calling of God that is in me as a pastor. Those two are the most important, not positions.
WA: There are allegations that money is the source of the fights in the church. do you consider money to be the motivating factor for your desire to go higher?
CC: Like I indicated, I don’t harbour any ambition to go high. I believe it’s God who bestows leaders, not our own desires. I have served in AFM in Zimbabwe church for more than three decades. During that time I served in very remote areas. I have spearheaded an outreach ministry, which actually supports pastors in marginalised areas and through that outreach programme, I have supported the construction of more than 30 church buildings, clinics and schools in rural areas. I am not into the ministry for money, but for the propagation of the gospel of salvation. There was nothing lucrative in the ministry when we left our jobs to be full-time ministers. The question of money is, therefore, out of context.
WA: Out of interest, how much does the AFM president earn because many out there believe money is the source of the ongoing fights?
CC: Mr Munyaradzi Shumba and Reverend Madziyire had been at the helm of the AFM administration before a vote of no-confidence was passed on them. They are better placed to furnish you with such information, otherwise I don’t know.
WA: What have you done to bring the two parties together and how will you deal with the memberships below?
CC: Let it be on record that the AFM in Zimbabwe church is a member of the AFM International. All mediation roles have been the responsibility of the AFMI executive, not me.
AFMI president Dr Frank Chikane has been in Zimbabwe more than five times to try and bring sanity to the church. His efforts were totally ignored by those that were pushing for the adoption of the new constitution. When he tried to intervene in terms of section 5:3 of the AFMI constitution, he could not even announce the intervention measures because the elders obtained a court order, which barred him from interference with the affairs of the troubled Zimbabwe. All that I have done is to continuously appeal to the AFMI to come and intervene, but their hands are still tied by the court order.
WA: Do you think that the church in recent years has been doing its core mandate, preaching the gospel and winning souls for Christ?
CC: AFM in Zimbabwe has grown in leaps and bounds over the past two decades resulting in astronomical numerical growth both in Zimbabwe and in the diaspora using the constitution that was repealed by the adoption of the draft through a court order.
WA: We have heard reports of indiscipline within the church. In the event that you take over, how do you intend to deal with such cases?
CC: I am yet to get such reports of indiscipline, during my stint as acting president. But when I sat in the Apostolic Council as overseer and deputy president, I would like to say very few such cases occurred, which do not warrant that stigma. In a church with over 800 ordained pastors, less than 5% of cases cannot justify pressing an alarm button.
WA: You have been the vice-president of the church for years and we have read complaints about segregation regarding pastors’ salaries. I am talking about rural and urban pastors. how does the church going forward intend to address this?
CC: It is unfortunate that some people are trying to use the issue of the welfare of rural pastors as a convenient excuse for rewriting the church’s constitution. The former leadership admittedly overlooked the plight of these pastors for the past 16 years. It has to be put on record that there is nothing in the current constitution that stopped the outgoing leadership from catering for the welfare of the rural pastors. It’s just a question of leadership priority, not a matter of constitution. Some provinces have done so well in looking after their rural pastors, but others have not. What has happened in the church today obviously calls on whoever shall be the leader of AFM to seriously consider the welfare of these pastors. Unfortunately the new constitution did not show any ways that it was going to use to help the pastors. Instead the new constitution proposes to merge the assemblies rendering the majority of rural pastors jobless.
WA: If given that opportunity to lead the church, what will you bring in terms of new ideas to bring back togetherness in the church?
CC: AFM uses the Presbyterian system of governance. No decision is made by one man. All key decisions emanate from boards not an individual leader. Any leader of the AFM church in Zimbabwe who tries to impose his own policies risks losing the people. The leader should only lead in the execution of council resolutions, not his own.
WA: Can you clarify allegations that you earn $10 000 as monthly allowances and $3 500 as appreciation fee?
CC: It’s all false. where can such an assembly like mine get that money to give me even appreciation? I pray if that can be true, I will be happy to get that money.
WA: Before you took over the vice-presidency, you were accused of being involved in the fight for Harare leadership with Reverend Murefu and some believed that you have been power- hungry for long.
CC: I never fought with my pastor T I Murefu. He was my overseer and we are united.