Obituary: Glayton Modise, head of ZCC breakaway church

21 February 2016 - 02:00 By Chris Barron

Bishop Glayton Modise, who has died in Johannesburg at the age of 76, was the leader of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, which has 350 branches and more than three million members in Southern Africa.

He inherited the leadership in 1998 from his father, Frederick Modise.

Modise snr, a carpenter and wealthy undertaker, had been a minister of the Zion Christian Church in Meadowlands, Soweto.

He broke away after a leadership clash with ZCC leader Bishop Edward Lekganyane. He started his own church in 1962 after hearing the voice of God and being miraculously healed of an intractable illness.

A charismatic man, he attracted a huge army of followers who called him The Comforter. They accepted that the final authority in the church was the word that Modise snr heard from God and communicated to them.

Politicians courted him assiduously. The multimillion-rand headquarters of the church in Westonaria outside Johannesburg, which boasted a 20000-seat auditorium and restaurant to feed the multitudes who flocked there once a month to be healed by Modise snr and later his son, was opened by then president FW de Klerk in 1991.

When Modise snr died in 1998 at the age of 84, top South African politicians were among the 100000 mourners at his funeral. They included then deputy president Thabo Mbeki, several premiers, the chairman of the National Council of Provinces, a wife of King Goodwill Zwelithini and Adelaide Tambo.

Modise had been hand-picked and anointed leader by his father. It was a position that conferred enormous influence and impressive wealth.

Like his father, Modise - also known as The Comforter - preached that his followers could be assured of material prosperity and health through faithfully giving to the church.

He had a fleet of luxury cars, including a top-of-the-range Rolls-Royce. In 2010, the church under his name paid R95-million for a farm on Blaauwberg Hill in Melkbosstrand, Western Cape.

Plans for the land included the building of a circular church on top of the hill surrounded by 10 luxury flats, and the construction of 300 homes for church visitors from upcountry.

The church got into trouble for removing a section of endangered fynbos and making changes to a historic farmhouse on the land without permission.

Modise's leadership was challenged by his brother-in-law, Bobo Bethuel Modise. There were allegations of hit men being offered R3-million to kill him, and Modise went to the police after allegedly receiving an SMS threatening his life. The case went to court but was dropped. His brother-in-law then started his own church.

One of the characteristics of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church is that it does not condemn polygamy.

In 2009, in his first presidential campaign appearance after corruption charges against him were dropped, Jacob Zuma told the congregation that other churches should learn from the IPHC's attitude towards polygamy.

Modise presided at mass weddings where up to 420 couples at a time, including grooms who were taking their second or third wives, were married.

Modise, who according to the church's philosophy is not dead but sleeping, is survived by his wives, Mapoloko and Mamohau, and five children.