President Ian Khama’s phone call to Reverend Rupert Hambira, intended to sideline opposition-inclined clerics from participating in the preparations of former president, Sir Ketumile Masire’s funeral has resulted in bitter divisions within the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa (UCCSA).
Upon the announcement of Masire’s death two weeks ago, Khama pushed a partisan agenda and instructed Hambira that he did not wish for a repeat of what transpired during the daily memorial prayers leading up to the funeral of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) president Gomolemo Motswaledi.
During that time a number of (UCCSA) pastors preached sermons that were widely viewed as critical of the Khama regime. Some of the priests even fell short of accusing government of assassinating Motswaledi.
“This is going to be a state funeral. Your opposition activists clad in clergy gowns must not be given a chance to attack me and my government,” Khama is claimed to have told Hambira.
Hambira is a well-known Botswana Democratic Party activist, who has tried his hand at a parliamentary seat in the previous elections and has also served as a specially elected councillor in the Gaborone City Council. Even before Khama’s call, Hambira’s dabbling in politics was already a source of divisions inside the UCCSA, with a majority of the members insisting that there be a clear line of division between the pulpit and politics.
Some members have publicly stated that a minister wishing to engage in politics should first take off the white collar.
“Remember it was at the height of the Reverend Prince Dibeela who led the crusade against ministers meddling in party politics. The feud between Hambira and Dibeela started that time. So it was bound to happen that now with Hambira having gone back to ministerial duties and Dibeela in the political space, it was pay-back time. The two men don’t see eye-to-eye,” a source close to both camps told the Sunday Standard.
Hambira, it is believed accepted Khama’s instructions without making the President understand the limit of his powers inside the Church.
At the moment Hambira holds the portfolio of a Resident Minister at Kumakwane.
Displeased congregants and fellow ministers found a partner in Masire’s son-in-law, Right Reverend Trevor Musonda Mwamba, a former Anglican Bishop.
At the funeral Mwamba hijacked the burial and performed the rite of passage.
“Hambira should have told Khama right at the beginning that what he was asking him to do was impossible as he neither is the moderator nor the chairman of the Synod. Coordination of such a high-profile event was beyond him. He was punching above his chest.
“In the UCCSA tradition, Botswana is divided into regions and this one that includes Gaborone is led by Mr. Gabanakgosi as the moderator. The Reverend Joe Mautswi is the Synod Chairperson and the Reverend Keleneilwe Kgerethwa is the Secretary.
“All these three gentlemen are Hambira’s principals and he should have deferred everything to them to coordinate the funeral arrangements of the late Sir Ketumile. But he would not let anyone do it but himself. He pulled the Reverend Dumi Mmualefhe by the ear, they come long ways back, though their political persuasions are different.
“Hambira was giving orders because he dropped the name Khama and everyone knows his closeness with the powers, so everything was happening upside-down,” the source told the Sunday Standard.”
The duo of Hambira and Mmualefhe were at the forefront coordinating the programme leading up to the funeral of Sir Ketumile, much to the chagrin of the family, who respected the fact that their father was a devout member of the UCCSA.
“The children of the late Sir Ketumile tried as much as they could to convince Hambira and Mmualefhe that they should involve other Christian denominations and that they must open up to embrace other faith backgrounds that their father under his presidency allowed to co-exist with the Christian community.
“In fact, one of the strong suggestions by the family is what led to the inter-faith memorial service at the University of Botswana. They insisted on it being inter-faith. If Hambira had his way, the furthest he could go was to make it inter-denominational, in other words, keeping it within the Christian family,” the source said.
Not only has the UCCSA been ripped apart because of the doctrinal practice that was on display at the funeral of the former president with the burning of incense and sprinkling of water as Mwamba rounded up the grave in prayer to commit the soul of Sir Ketumile in God’s hands, rather, what was meant to be a state funeral ended up being hijacked by the interests of the church leaders, led by Hambira who was steadfast to make it exclusively UCCSA.
“When this chap stressed that the funeral was strictly UCCSA, I got goose bumps. As a chaplain, I saw just how much drunk he was with political power to not even see that this was a state funeral. He ought to have known better that the reason a dozen of us pitched up in army uniform and collared was for the simple reason that we had to conduct the funeral.
“They had done their bit in the days preceding the funeral. All things being equal, they should have reserved the funeral for the army chaplains,” said an army chaplain who was ordered to remain behind in the tent as only a few ministers could go to the gravesite.
There is displeasure within the army ranks with regards the turn of events with Sir Ketumile’s funeral, all thanks to the domineering control by Hambira and the UCCSA that did not know where to stop and involve other relevant key players.
In fact, the head of chaplaincy at the Botswana Defence Force is being held blameworthy for not coming to the defence of his own charges. Reverend David Mapitse is also a UCCSA ordained minister and those under his watch who don’t subscribe to the same doctrine feel he compromised too much to deprive them their state-conferred responsibilities to bid a statesman in the proper decorum befitting someone of his stature.
“That is true ÔÇô we felt we were not needed. If you were not in the good books of Hambira, you could not do anything even if he sat next to you. The man was out to please his master and he only made a fool of himself in the end, when the rite of passage that runs contrary to UCCSA tradition blew up in his face. We will meet him at the next conference and he will explain why such a huge compromise of doctrine,” an angry UCCSA minister stressed.