Behind its fa├ºade of heavenly tranquility, Bread of Life International in Block 9, Gaborone, is a church deeply mired in earthly turmoil. In hushed tones, Batswana congregants express grave concern that the church’s leader, Zimbabwean-born Pastor Innocent Nkomo, is eating a fair chunk of locally-made bread to better his own personal life.
In the 2008/09 financial year, about 80 percent of income raised by the Gaborone congregation is said to have gone to Nkomo’s household. In the only instance in a wide-ranging interview that he uses non-biblical language, Nkomo dismisses this claim as ‘utter nonsense.’
What he does not dispute is information that the church pays for his family’s upkeep, which includes rent (currently P4000 a month), utility bills, schools fees for two of his children who attend an upscale private school in Tlokweng, satellite television service, groceries, monthly allowance for his wife and no-limit fuel expenditure for his car.
Sunday Standard’s information about the groceries figure is P4000 a month but Nkomo revises it down to P1400. He does not deny that his wife gets some money from the church (‘it could be P1000 this month, P2000 the next month’) but says that she is only being ‘thanked’, not paid.
When congregants remonstrated with him over this level of expenditure, Nkomo reportedly stated that some of the money meant for him actually went to his mentor in Zimbabwe. He confirms that there is indeed a mentor of his in Zimbabwe whom he pays some money, not from church funds but out of his own pocket. In instances when the church has given the mentor money it was merely to ‘thank’ and not pay him.
Bread of Life is a tithing church and its pastors purportedly tithe not to the church directly but to Nkomo himself. The latter denies this, saying pastors’ tithes (his included) are pooled into an account whose savings are used to assist pastoral work nationwide.
Additionally, Nkomo is accused of exercising overdue influence, nepotism and of being overly domineering. Officially, he is supposed to be out of the picture because, as his online profile says, last year “God spoke to [him] to hand the baton of leading Bread of Life Christian Church Int’l to Bishop Owen Isaacs, who then took over in June 14 as the new Bishop and leading the church in Botswana.”
Isaacs is a Motswana. However, some congregants say that Nkomo is still very much in the picture and may have neglected to tell the church that following a subsequent conversation with God, he was restored to power by another divine providence.
One pastor has resigned in protest and another is on the way for the same reason. In a mobile phone text message that begins with a Hebrew greeting, the latter tells friends: ‘I don’t feel this church anymore with all these funny acts and irregularities.’
One thing that congregants find funny and irregular is that Nkomo and two pastors are the only ones in such position who draw a salary from the church. One is a Zimbabwean-born naturalised Motswana (Nkomo’s sister-in-law, sources say) and the other is also Zimbabwean who used to drive Nkomo and family around town.
Earlier this year, Nkomo opened a bank account under the church’s name. The church’s constitution authorises only three members of the NEB to be signatories of the church’s bank accounts: the chairperson, treasurer and secretary. Although Nkomo does not hold any of those positions, he is one of the signatories alongside a fellow Zimbabwean and Yvonne Nyoni, a Motswana congregant he controversially appointed administrator some months ago. His defence is that as church leader he is signatory to all bank accounts in the church’s name.
This coming month, the church holds its annual end-of-year camp. In a tentative programme that he shared with pastors, Nkomo features his younger brother who is based in Zimbabwe and a South African pastor, as main speakers.
Bread of Life is a breakaway church of Family of God (FOG) which originated in Zimbabwe. At the time of the split, Nkomo accused the leader, Prophet Andrew Wutawunashe of repatriating to Zimbabwe money raised and that could have been used locally.
In a research paper he wrote, Lovemore Togarasei, a University of Botswana lecturer who is himself Zimbabwean, says that FOG’s emphasis is on “speaking in tongues, the healing of the sick, and the gospel of prosperity.”