Newly-elected Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Blantyre Synod General Secretary (GS) Billy Gama has vowed to unite the synod amid concerns of political and tribal divisions rocking the church.
In an exclusive interview with Nation Online two days after he was elected GS at the synod’s 32nd Biennial Assembly in Blantyre, Gama dismissed attacks on his personality by critics who have questioned his moral uprightness and suitability for the position.
He said: “My first task is to unite the church which has experienced divisions amongst its top leadership due to, among others, ethnic and political reasons.”
Last year, social media was awash with pictures of a person who was said to be Gama embracing a young woman, with both of them dressed in swim wear at a beach resort.
But during the interview on Wednesday, Gama—who on Monday triumphed in a highly contested election where he beat five other contestants with 181 votes despite allegations of political manipulation, buying votes and infidelity—said he did not see any problem with how the synod handled the matter surrounding his alleged misconduct.
Throughout the 50-minute interview, the new GS, whose jurisdiction stretches across 18 presbyteries from Nsanje to Ntcheu, maintained his innocence over the allegations, dismissing them as mere propaganda aimed at tarnishing his image.
Said Gama: “What I think is that if I used money to buy votes, I would have been nominated by all the 18 presbyteries, but I got eight nominations only. If someone accuses me of being a sympathiser of the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP], for example, they have to justify that with evidence.
“No-one has ever seen me getting involved with DPP as a party. One wonders why all these accusations are coming from people who are not from my church. I have not even been summoned for any disciplinary hearing on infidelity. Not even my own wife has accused me of such a thing.”
He has since said his leadership will ensure that church ministers, who are accused of being morally corrupt and those using the pulpit to advance any political agenda, are disciplined.
Said the GS: “Decisions within the synod are not made by one person. Thus, all issues will be handled using the existing guidelines. If, for example, a minister uses the pulpit to advance political agenda or is accused of being morally bankrupt, the evidence shall be examined and verdict passed accordingly.
“Only during elections is the clergy allowed to guide the flock on attributes of good leaders and not necessarily political colours.”
Gama said he will now focus on building the synod’s financial sustainability through enforcement of existing projects and introduction of new ones, revision of the welfare of church ministers and development of rural-based congregations to reduce the gap between urban and rural churches.
However, he conceded that the disunity in the church was cause for concern and vowed to reach out to all stakeholders in the synod to identify ways of dealing with the problems which he said were age-old.
During the opening day of the Biennial Assembly, Livingstonia Synod moderator emeritus the Reverend John Gondwe, who was guest of honour, urged church leaders to avoid plunging the church into political and ethnic divisions.
He said: “The more we dwell on issues to do with tribes and politics, we will fail to grasp the key agenda of the church. We need to focus on the church unity that comes through the word of God. Let us all embrace things that will put the church together and not dividing it. It is a fact that issues such as politics are slowly destroying the church.”
Former Blantyre Synod GS the Reverend Alex Maulana also renounced the conduct of some church leaders whom he said were bent on dividing the church rather than embracing people of all affiliations.
After the new GS’s election, a section of church leaders who opposed his candidacy immediately left the hall in protest, signaling the start of a rift that may pose a challenge to Gama’s four-year tenure.
One of Gama’s critics from a congregation in the Blantyre City Presbytery, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the election of Gama may further polarise the church due to the GS’s association with the governing DPP.
Said the source: “There may be consequences because those people who are against Gama’s election are of the view that he is too involved in politics through his association with the DPP and the Lomwe tribal grouping. I know there are leaders who are even talking of withholding church pledge funds as a way of protest. Let us all hope it does not reach that far.”
Apart from Gama, the assembly, which ended yesterday, also re-elected Masauko Mbolembole as Synod Moderator and Miriam Chipeta Banda as Vice-Moderator.
Gama has served in several parastatal boards in recent time, with his current placement being chairperson of the University of Malawi Council. Until his election to the top synod position, he served as moderator for St Andrews CCAP in Mulanje.