One of Namibia’s fastest-growing churches, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, yesterday turned to the High Court to look for some earthly justice for being referred to as a “Satanic sect” in a weekly State-owned newspaper.
God and Satan, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God on one side and Satanism on the other, and the Word of God and words in a newspaper report that are claimed to have been grievously defamatory of the Universal Church all featured yesterday in the first day of court proceedings in a libel case that the church has made against the company publishing The Southern Times.
The church is demanding N$120 000 from Namzim Newspapers (Pty) Ltd, the joint venture between the Namibian and Zimbabwean governments that publishes The Southern Times.
The church’s defamation claim flows from a report that was published on the front page of The Southern Times on December 4 2005.
On the front page of the paper a headline trumpeting ‘State bans ‘Satanic’ sect’ was published above a large photograph showing the church’s building near Ausspannplatz in Windhoek’s Independence Avenue.
On page three of the newspaper it emerges that the claimed banning had taken place in Zambia.
On that page, the headline read: “Zambia bans sect after riots over Satanism claim”.
This page also featured a large photograph of the Windhoek church, as well as another photo of a branch of the church in Harare.
In the actual story, it was reported that the Zambian government had suspended the church’s operations in Zambia after a riot in Lusaka that was caused by rumours that this Christian church actually practised Satanism and human sacrifice.
In the story it was also reported that the church – variously referred to as “controversial” and as a “sect“, “attributes illness to demons”, and that it “lured” believers “by promises of riches and deliverance from all manner of sickness, protection from foul luck and magic”.
It was further reported that a 1997 Belgian parliamentary report had painted “the sect in dark colours” by terming it “an authentic crime organisation whose only goal is to enrich itself“, as well as “an extreme form of religious merchandising“.
Through this report, the church is claiming in the case against Namzim Newspapers, the newspaper conveyed to its readers a variety of defamatory allegations.
These include claims that the church is “a controversial religious sect”, that it “practises Satanism and human sacrifice”, that it “lures its believers by promises of riches”, that it “attributes illnesses to demons”, that it “is an authentic crime organisation whose only goal is to enrich itself”, that it “is engaged in an extreme form of religious merchandising”, and that its collections of funds for the church “are a large scale con-job”, the church is charging in its claim against the company.
The newspaper’s report also created the impression that the church had been banned in Namibia because it is “a ‘Satanic’ sect”, the church charges.
In its reply to the claim, Namzim Newspapers denied that it had made any of these allegations in respect of the Namibian chapter of the church.
As a denomination, however, the company stated, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is indeed “a controversial sect” that “lures its believers by promises of riches” and that “attributes illness to demons”.
The company also repeated that a Belgian parliamentary report [Report in Dutch and French. Translation. - RNB] had indeed made the reported remarks over the church, and stated that this was indeed what the newspaper intended to convey to its readers.
The church’s Bishop in Namibia, Jose Eduardo Mullich, told Acting Judge Annel Silungwe yesterday that he was shocked when he first saw the report in the Southern Times.
“It was clear to me that the Universal Church at 32 Independence Avenue here in Namibia had been banned,” he said of his first impression about the report.
“And what is worse, they were accusing us of Satanism,” he added.
“I believe there is no worse accusation for a church – a Christian church that preaches the Bible,” he told the Acting Judge.
Said Mullich: “To be accused of Satanism is the worst thing that could ever happen.”
Three things about the front page of the paper shocked him, he said.
These were the word “Satanic” and the picture of the Windhoek church, and then the use of the term “sect”.
“The Bible talks about God who is the Father, who is also the Son and the Holy Spirit,” Mullich said.
“The Bible also talks about Satan, who is the source of evil, who is the Devil, who is opposite the Lord.
Satanism is a cult that worships Satan.
They normally operate in secrecy.
They are never like us – in the main street of the capital,” he said.
It is impossible to reconcile a Christian church and Satanism, he added.
He said after he had seen the newspaper story he contacted the publication’s editor, Moses Magadza, to ask that the church should be given a chance to state its side of the matter.
Magadza’s reaction was to tell him that the church would have to take out an advertisement in the paper if it wanted its explanation published, Mullich claimed.
“I felt really revolted inside of my heart because to me it was clear that he was using our picture to sell newspapers, and on the other side he was trying to make money to let us explain ourselves,” he told Acting Judge Silungwe.
Mullich will continue to face cross-examination from Natasha Bassingthwaighte, representing Namzim Newspapers, when the trial continues today.
Harald Geier is representing the church on instructions from the law firm Behrens & Pfeiffer.
• Original title: God, Satan and Southern Times feature in court scrap