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The African Methodist Episcopal Church is in the eye of a storm after priests from several provinces accused the church leadership of diverting their pension contributions.

Sowetan has seen a petition signed by close to 50 priests last month, requesting an investigation into claims of mismanagement of funds contributed to a pension scheme held with Sanlam insurance.

The scheme is meant to secure the priests' welfare and that of their beneficiaries.

They accused the church, under the leadership of Bishop Paul Kawimbe, of failing to submit their full 10% annuity contributions to Sanlam.

They claim church leaders have actually been paying only half of their contributions.

Reverend Nthunzi Mzangwa, 63, a senior pastor from Limpopo who has been serving for 41 years, said he was bitter.

"I am one of the senior pastors; its heartbreaking and makes one angry. I have to go to the head office and protest - at my age - when I'm supposed to be enjoying [a] glorious time in quietness," he said.

Another church leader from Soweto, Reverend Sibusiso Gule, said he was contributing R800 per month but only R420 was paid to Sanlam.

"I feel that they are not taking this matter seriously. Mine [contributions with Sanlam] is at R48 000, if I die, that is what my wife will get after 12 years of ministry," he said.

"They are not only stealing from us, this money comes from members of the church. Some of them don't even have the benefits that we are trying to have but they give with love, after that someone else steals that."

Reverend Victor Malefetse of Lichtenburg said his family would not get what he contributed.

"They will get way less, but besides my fears the most serious matter is why are they not taking the exact amount, that on its own has a criminal element (to it)," he said.

Reverend Solomon Maans from Soweto who has been serving the church for 34 years, alleged that Kawimbe sought to punish them when they raised the matter.

The priests will be marching to the church's headquarters next week to protest.

They further alleged that some pastors who have retired and those who died are yet to be paid their benefits.

Kawimbe said he knew about the problem but could not talk as he was in Zambia.

Presiding elder of the AME and administrator of the funds, Tsele Setai, said the matter will be resolved. "We will get to the bottom of this, we need to address it with the insurance company first. They must not panic," he said.

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