There was muted celebration at the 32nd Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Biennial Assembly on Monday when the election of the new General Secretary (GS) Billy Gama was announced.
Gama floored five other contestants in a shocking victory which sent the whole assembly into a state of bewilderment as a small section applauded at the announcement while scores of delegates were seen leaving the hall immediately afterwards.
Chairperson of the electoral board, Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Justice Frank Kapanda Phiri who announced the results at around 8:25pm, said Gama polled 181 votes against his closest contestant Reverend Buxton Maulidi who amassed 124 votes.
Reverend Takuze Chitsulo got 65 votes with Reverend Cliff Nyekanyeka getting 37 votes and Reverends Collin M’bawa and Lazarus Kadango 22 and 11 votes, respectively.
Delegates during the event held at the synod headquarters in Blantyre also re-elected Reverend Masauko Mbolembole as Moderator of the Synod. He amassed 306 votes out of the 440 that were cast while Reverend Edna Navaya, who came second, got 101 with Reverend Demester Mthipela getting 28 votes.
Reverend Mirriam Chipeta Banda was given the mantle as Vice-Moderator of the Synod with 317 votes. Reverend Manford Kutani came second with 69 votes while Reverend Annie Kapinda came last with 50 votes.
Assembly delegates voted in an election touted by some leaders of the church as a make or break event as delegates feared a further polarisation of the church’s fabric amidst concerns of some leaders towing party lines and causing tribal divisions within the synod.
Following weeks of jostling and hostilities between contenders for positions, especially of the hotly contested GS’s post, delegates elected Gama to the position which was previously occupied by Reverend Alex Benson Maulana.
In a post-election interview, Gama acknowledged the huge task that he has to unite the church when he said he would first reach out to his contenders to find a common ground.
“As you have noted, most speakers today dwelt on the importance of unity which is why we are going to ensure that we work with everyone. The issue of the church being partisan is an old chorus, but if you look at it closely, you will find that it is mostly exaggerated. Church and the State are partners; hence, you should expect the two sides to work hand in hand,” he said.
In an interview, Maulidi said: “I have no issues with how the elections were conducted. I contested because I had a desire to change the direction of the synod but apparently, the electorate thought differently. We have to accept the will of the electorate.”
The electoral board also consisted of High Court Judge Maclean Kamwambe, Mary Sanga, Pauline Ntonga, Jimmy Lipunga, Hastings Thembakako, Augustine Mwemba, Hudson Kantwanje, among others.
The new office- bearers were elected in a highly contested election that was preceded by weeks of infighting, accusations and counter-accusations of political interference and tribal divisions rocking the Presbyterian church.
The venue of the assembly was abuzz with activity as hundreds of delegates from the synod’s 18 presbyteries gathered for the event where groups of clerics and their officers were seen conferring as early as 9am in a sheer display of last-minute canvassing groups votes.
In his farewell speech, outgoing GS Reverend Maulana confirmed fears of polarisation of the church due to political and tribal considerations.
He said amidst a wild applause: “My hope is that the incoming team will strive to maintain church unity. If the synod continues on this path, surely sooner or later, we will see it divided on tribal and political lines. All those behind these divisions should know that they are not serving God but the devil.”
Ironically, the same narrative dominated the earlier speech by the guest of honour in emeritus moderator for the Livingstonia Synod Reverend John Gondwe who warned church leaders against aligning themselves to ethnical and political groupings to avoid dividing the church.