In this case, Judge Owen Tagu of the high court in Harare was faced with a situation where two members of the United Family International Church wanted to sue the couple running the church, Emmanuel and Ruth Makandiwas (prophet and prophetess respectively).
The two members of the church, Upenyu and Blessing Mashangwa, told the court of a promise allegedly made by the Makandiwas: if congregants handed over a lot of money to the prophets, their debts would “disappear” as this was “the season of miraculous cancellation of debts”. The Mashangwa couple – whose debts did not disappear but who lost a good deal of money when the bank repossessed their property – claimed US$6 535 000 from the church and its leaders for fraud and misrepresentation.
Faced with these very strange allegations here is what the judge had to say:
“Even if it is true that such a representation was made in church it is inconsistent with common sense and reason that God would unconditionally cancel all the debts of every nature and description and that congregates should immediately stop paying any loans that they had even before the same had been cancelled, that congregates should accordingly not engage their creditors, and that congregates should ignore demands, court processes, judgments, notices of and attachment and advertisements of sales in execution and must not take any steps to safeguard their positions. The respondents from the papers are business people of undoubted and unparalleled acumen. They knew very well that the debts if any, they had incurred, they had done so in terms of positive law and not ecclesiastical law. Even in the Holy Bible, King James Version- in Genesis 3 v 19 God advised ADAM in the following words –
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it was thou taken….” (“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The Gedeons International version supra.) (In vernacular language (Uchadya cheziya kusvikira murufu)
“This is loosely translated to mean there is nothing for free and every man shall work hard to achieve what he wanted until death and that God would give them power and wisdom to achieve their goals and not just expect miracles to happen on their own. If (the church leader) talked of season of miraculous cancellations of debts he did not literally mean those with debts should go home and just sit waiting for debts to be miraculously wiped without them doing something about them. The law on misrepresentations in delict is settled. See Murray v McLean, NO 1970 (1) SA 133 (R).”
- Newsletter, Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa), 14 February 2019