A pilgrimage of a million souls

2014-04-20 15:00

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Bringing one million people together in any space could lead to chaos – but the atmosphere at the Zion Christian Church’s (ZCC) Limpopo headquarters is calm and even the security guards are polite.

Pilgrims flock to Zion City in Moria, near Tzaneen, for the holy Easter weekend. Some arrived as early as Tuesday this week, though they were seeking good parking and prime camping sites rather than religious enlightenment.

Today is the spiritual highlight of the weekend, with ZCC bishop Barnabas Lekganyane due to deliver his sermon.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and South Africa’s deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe are among the high-profile visitors expected to attend the sermon. They will not speak, though – the stage ­belongs entirely to Lekganyane.

For those who come late – and particularly those who aren’t wearing the church’s distinctive metal star brooch – the nearest parking is up to 2 kilometres away.

Two men clad in khaki ZCC uniforms patrolled the R71 route that passes Moria, politely asking people not to park “anywhere beyond the designated areas”.

The sprawling land owned by the church was ­jam-packed with buses and taxis yesterday.

Despite the absence of a star brooch, visitors were welcomed yesterday – as long as they obeyed the rules.

Cigarettes, alcohol and pork are prohibited. Taking photographs is banned, too, and security guards won’t let anyone carrying a camera through.

That goes for smartphones, too.?Once inside, you’re greeted by large groups of men singing and dancing. They wear khaki uniforms and white handmade leather shoes with soles made from car tyres.

As they dance, they leap into the air and hit the ground with such force that their soles produce a loud, banging sound.

Clouds of sand explode around them as they move.

There are stalls set up in parts of Moria at which cooked food, fruit, vegetables, church-branded tea and petroleum jelly are among the items on sale.

No hawkers are allowed near Moria, though some entrepreneurs had set up stands further along the ­­R71 route to entice arriving pilgrims.

Congregants keep largely to themselves, though some were willing to chat to City Press.

“Today, people are free to wear private clothing but tomorrow, we’ll be in our different uniforms.

“Women will occupy their designated space and sit according to the colour of uniforms,” one congregant said.

Men and women are allowed to mix anywhere but in the space where they congregate for prayer and ­sermons.?“We have women who wear blue uniforms and those who will be clad in green and yellow.

Most of our male members wear khaki gear and we also have seniors who wear green suits and they also sit ­according to their colours.

“Only the Bishop, his guests and some senior people in the church sit inside the church during the sermon.”

The sermon is broadcast through large speakers, and most of the congregants sit on the ground as ­Lekganyane preaches.

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