Moria City: Going north to find God

2015-04-05 15:15

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Millions of the faithful travel to their holy land in SA each year. Sipho Masondo took the pilgrimage with them and Leon Sadiki took the pics.

It is an unassuming enclave at the foot of a mountain along the R71 to Tzaneen, about 40km outside Polokwane in Limpopo.

But this is no ordinary, dusty Limpopo village.

For starters, it is huge.

Secondly, South Africa’s last six presidents – Jacob Zuma, Kgalema Motlanthe, Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk and PW Botha – have all visited it. As have DA leader Helen Zille and Economic Freedom Fighters boss Julius Malema.

This is Moria City, home to the century-old Zion Christian Church (ZCC), which draws a staggering 3 million to 5 million devotees to the area twice a year – over Easter and then in September for pilgrimage weekends.

On Friday, roads surrounding the enclave were stuck in gridlock, and it took drivers five hours to negotiate the last 2km from the R71 to the church’s parking lot.

Buses and cars from all corners of South Africa formed a convoy as they poured in.

An endless line of buses outside the Zion Christian Church in Moria, Limpopo

Men and women travelled in separate buses, but all – young and old – were enraptured by the prospect of having their souls and spirits nourished at the headquarters of their church and ancestral home of its founder, Engenas Lekganyane.

Thousands of congregants milled around the hundreds of cars and buses in the parking lot, but the mood was serene. To while away time in the meandering queues leading to the main entrance, women and children swung their hips, sang and danced, sending strains of melodies into the air.

Not to be outdone, men jumped up and down in unison, causing dust to swirl up, creating a cloud above Moria.

Among the crowd were British citizens Peter and Mollie Cookson, who had travelled by bus from Cape Town to experience South Africa’s own “Mecca or Vatican”.

Mollie said: “We have been to both Mecca and the Vatican, but this is like nothing we have seen before.

“I am a religious fanatic and, since I am now based in Cape Town, I am considering becoming a member. I think we have found what we have been looking for.

“We have found God, and we didn’t find him in Mecca or the Vatican.”

Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, is home to Islam’s annual Hajj pilgrimage, while Vatican City, an independent walled enclave in the Italian capital of Rome, is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.

A few metres away from the Cooksons stood Tefo Mailula, a senior civil servant in the Northern Cape provincial government.

The 56-year-old from Kimberley, who was on his maiden trip to Moria, explained that he had long wondered what the church looked like.

He said he had made this pilgrimage because, in order to have a primal bond with the faith and cement a true relationship with what it stood for, one had to visit Moria at least once in one’s lifetime.

So far, the reality had lived up to his grand expectations.

“I’ve heard people saying Moria this and Moria that. It’s kind of irritating when people shove down your throat conversations about places you have never been to,” he said as he drained his fizzy drink.

“From now on, I will gladly be part of those conversations. In fact, I will initiate them. I’m happy with what I am seeing and the atmosphere.”

The Cooksons have many reasons to liken Moria to the Vatican. Like the Vatican, Moria is led by the clergy and is self-sufficient. It has shops, ATMs, butcheries, access roads, a petrol station, schools and other public amenities. The ZCC built the Marobathota and Makgoka high schools in the area.

The Lekganyanes have become exceedingly wealthy, with interests in logistics and food. They also have exclusive rights to distribute the church’s uniforms, tea and ointments to its millions of members.

Three hours later, we arrived at the main gate leading into the Lekganyane homestead, and eventually the church.

Maria Mabote, a local parishioner, said being here made her think of what it might be like to arrive at the pearly gates mentioned in Revelation, the final book in the Bible.

“Today we are walking in dusty streets. But beyond this life, we will walk in streets of gold and pass through the pearly gates as we enter heaven. Not that I want to die now, but I really can’t wait,” she said.

Without the khaki uniform worn by the men, Star of David badge and trademark hat, I quickly attracted the attention of paranoid security officials. They insisted that if I wanted access to the church, I had to throw my lot in with them, shave my beard, be baptised promptly and acquire the uniform.

Cellphones and cameras were also strictly not allowed.

The ZCC, which has branches in Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Botswana, was founded by Lekganyane in 1910, apparently after he received a vision from God. The church has now split into two. Each section is led by one of Lekganyane’s grandsons, Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane and his brother, Saint Engenas Lekganyane.

The two churches, which are adjacent to each other, have the same faith and beliefs. Barnabas’ sect uses the Star of David as its trademark, while Saint Engenas uses a dove.

Read more on:    easter

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