Preacher accused of hijacking church

Honore Makembe and his wife Bijoux inside the property of Riverview Church of Christ on Sunday February 20.

A Congolese missionary has conned his way into a Lakeside church claiming to be the legitimate minister and denying congregants access to the property, according to the church.

Executive committee members of the Riverview Church of Christ say Honore Makembe and his family are illegally living on the church property, are alienating and threatening members of the church, have changed its locks, and are preventing it from generating income.

While the church believes that “you shall not take your brethren to court”, the executive committee members were forced to do so several times during the past seven years, and Mr Makembe and the former chairman of the church, Thomas Smith, are facing charges of contempt of court in respect of two court orders dated October 2015 and December 2018.

The matter will be heard in the Western Cape High Court on Thursday, April 28.

Mr Makembe was introduced to the church in 2010 by missionaries from Hillcrest Church of Christ, a Texas-based Bible school that is involved in mission efforts throughout the world, according to an executive committee member of the church who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisal.

At the time, Mr Makembe was busy with a two-year study scholarship as a missionary apprentice, according to a letter from the Hillcrest Church of Christ and was acting as a lay minister for Congolese citizens in South Africa. He used the premises of Riverview Church of Christ for his services.

He currently holds no formal qualification as a minister, according to court documents seen by the Echo.

In December 2018, Judge Dennis Davis found that Mr Makembe and Mr Smith were in contempt of court for not adhering to an order made by Judge Nape Dolamo, in October 2015, and he sentenced each of them to 90 days in jail. However, to date, they have failed to serve their sentences.

Judge Dolamo ordered that the Riverview Church of Christ is the “property” of the executive members and not Mr Smith and Mr Makembe. He ordered that they (Smith and Makembe) must allow congregants to attend church services and gather at the church’s premises without interference. Judge Dolomo further ordered that Mr Smith and Mr Makembe must contribute, pro-rata, to all church expenses such as rates and taxes and that the church may collect revenue in any form. He also ordered that Mr Smith and Mr Makembe may not present themselves as executive committee members or elders of the church and must attend church at separate times as arranged by the church.

However, following this order, Mr Makembe and Mr Smith continued to present themselves as members of the executive committee and fraudulently tried to replace the church’s constitution, according to Judge Davis’s judgment.

According to court documents, they used the new constitution in an attempt to change signatories at the church’s bank; approached the church’s debtors and creditors advising them that all future transactions should go through their Nedbank account; unlawfully accepted donations from congregation members; failed to pay invoices sent to them by the church; erected a fence on the church’s property; unlawfully changed locks; and attempted to coerce Touareg Tents, which rents property from the church, to pay monies to them by providing them with documentation from a fraudulently established trust in which Mr Makembe and his wife, Bijoux, and the daughter of Mr Smith are the trustees.

They also prevented billboards being placed on the property as a source of income for the church.

The executive committee member said Mr Makembe became “extremely arrogant and problematic” in 2014 after amalgamating his congregation with theirs and the “situation extended to such a dramatic extent” that the affairs of the church could no longer be carried out.

The church then issued Mr Makembe and Mr Thomas with a disfellowship in 2014 and “they were furious”. This is when the church moved its services to the church’s library and Mr Makembe started using the main hall.

Mr Makembe has obtained several protection and restraining orders against members of the church. The Echo has also seen video footage of Ms Makembe pushing an executive committee member around, and when she sees someone filming it, she falls to the ground screaming, “Kill me. You kill black people. Kill me.”

“Anyone who dares to challenge him is taken to court,” the executive committee member said. He said several cases had been opened against Mr Makembe at the Muizenberg police station, but the “police do nothing”.

In the meantime, the situation at the church has reached boiling point, and congregation members are still being denied access to the church.

Colin Fourie (not his real name), 85, who is not a congregation member but lives nearby, said the gate of the church was locked on Sunday February 20 and traffic backed into the Main Road as cars could not turn into the church’s premises.

He said Mr Makembe and his wife had stood inside the property while members of the congregation had pleaded to be let in. Ms Makembe had then reluctantly unlocked the gate and a “tug of war” had followed as she had changed her mind while congregation members had tried to push the gate open. He said Mr Makembe had “charged” at the congregants and shouted: “Don’t touch my wife.”

Mr Fourie said Mr Makembe had approached employees of a business next to the church and asked them to help him remove the congregation members from the church premises but they had refused.

The spokesman for the church, Dereck Beukes, confirmed that Mr Makembe was not the official minister of the church. He said Noel van der Burg was the church’s official minister and had been appointed in 2010. Mr Van der Burg declined to comment.

Mr Beukes said the situation had been “extremely stressful” and had depleted the church’s cash reserves.

Mr Makembe said most of the allegations against him had been dealt with by the high court. He denied being in contempt of court and having to appear in court in April. “I am not aware of such information. However, I will contact my attorney next week,” he said and asked the Echo for the case number. This despite the Echo being in possession of a notice of motion for the case.

Mr Makembe referred the Echo to an article written by the Cape Argus in 2015 about the church’s financial position.

He said the “elders of the church” (himself) were busy sending letters of demand to all those involved in the management of the church funds.

He said he did not need to prove that he was “legally or illegally” on the property and declined to provide the Echo with a lease or rental agreement as requested

He confirmed that he had obtained protection orders against church members. “There are currently more than 15 criminal cases pending in court for assaults, gender-based violence, violation of court, and many more. I nearly lost my daughter and granddaughter in one of these assaults,” he said.

Mr Makembe failed to respond to the Echo’s question on whether he is a qualified minister or not and where he had studied. He said he had not given “passers-by” permission to take video footage of him and his wife and would not hesitate to take legal action “if his rights are violated”.

Muizenberg police spokesman Captain Stephan Knapp said police were currently investigating 25 cases, between the two parties, ranging from harassment to criminal activities.

He said the “police are not doing nothing” but cannot be used to solve the internal problems between the parties.

“We get called out on a regular basis to intervene when the parties have disagreements, and it puts a huge strain on the police force,” he said.

He said the dockets would be sent to Simon’s Town Magistrate’s court for advice from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on how to proceed with the matter.

The Echo asked NPA spokesman Eric Ntabazalila why the court had not intervened when Mr Makembe and Mr Smith had failed to serve their jail term. He said he was unable to comment as the matter was a civil case.

Despite several attempts by phone, email, WhatsApp, and SMS, Mr Smith could not be reached for comment.

The Riverview Church of Christ in Lakeside.
This fence was illegally put up by Honore Makembe on the Riverview Church of Christ’s property, according to court documents seen by the Echo.