Shembe pilgrims get police escort
Durban - Members of a Shembe church faction have been escorted up a mountain outside Durban by KwaZulu-Natal police officers for their annual prayers.
"It has become our duty to put up a security plan when the Shembe congregants go to the mountain. We do it every year without fail," spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Mdunge said on Tuesday.
On Monday the church's Ekuphakameni faction climbed Nhlangakazi mountain in Inanda for their 15-day prayer session as part of their annual pilgrimage.
Mdunge said security was needed because the Shembe church had a large following and many people climbed the mountain.
"Some of the people are elderly and they get tired very easily. Ambulance services are always on standby."
He denied allegations that the group had asked for security because of threats from other rival factions.
"There are always tensions as the church is involved in a leadership dispute, but that is for them to resolve. We will provide security for the entire event."
Mdunge said the climb was peaceful.
A court interdict issued by the KwaZulu-Natal High Court prevents the Shembe church's Ebuhleni and Thembezinhle groups from going on the pilgrimage until a leadership dispute has been resolved.
The Shembe leadership battle began in April 2011 with the death of Vimbeni Shembe, leader of the largest faction of the church. According to a will presented by the church's lawyer during Vimbeni's funeral, he chose his cousin Vela Shembe as his successor. However, the church's senior leaders expressed their preference for his son, Mduduzi.
The matter is currently before the court.
The Nazareth Baptist Church, as the Shembe church is also known, was founded by Isaiah Shembe in 1910. Violent family disputes over succession have plagued the church since the 1970s.