Newsmaker: ‘Stone Murray’ call rocks Shembe

2012-05-26 18:07

Fragmented church in damage control mode after man of God calls for the death of artist

What would make a journalist-turned-man of God call on members of the Shembe church to stone The Spear artist Brett Murray to death?

Enoch Mthembu – against whom the artist has secured a High Court interdict over his incendiary comments that he should be “stoned to death’’ for his portrait of President Jacob Zuma – isn’t telling.

Mthembu’s comments have caused the already fragmented church to go into damage control mode, with leaders of its various factions distancing themselves from his call.

They have also denied he is their spokesperson or has any mandate to speak on behalf of the church.

Mthembu, a former goalkeeper and fixer for international news organisations operating in South Africa in the turbulent 1980s and 1990s, insists he is the legitimate Shembe spokesperson.

However, he consistently refused to comment on the record, claiming he was a victim of political infighting within Shembe, which is now split into two factions.

Mthembu is part of the Thembezinhle faction, which backs Vela Shembe, whom they claim was anointed as the successor by Vimbeni Shembe before his death last year.

The other larger faction, eBuhleni, backs Vela’s cousin, Mduduzi, whom the church executive says is the anointed leader.

The fight is currently before court.

“I don’t want to comment. I am not seeking publicity. I am not Julius Malema,’’ said Mthembu. But he remains adamant that he has a mandate to speak for the church.

“Nobody has told me I am not the spokesperson,” he said. “I was given a letter by the late leader appointing me.’’

Mthembu was also involved in the move by Shembe to claim money from vuvuzela manufacturers, arguing that the church’s ceremonial horn was the instrument on which the vuvuzela was based.

He also claims responsibility for the upgrading of the access roads and water supply to the church’s headquarters at Nhlangakazi, near Inanda.

Pressed as to why he publicly sentenced Murray to death by stoning, he refused to comment.

He also refused to say whether he would abide by the interdict, which gave him five days to retract his statement and provide the court with proof of having done so.

If he does not, he could face jail for contempt of court.

Mthembu did say that both his culture and religion made it a sin to expose the genitals of an elder person and that whoever did so should be killed.

Shembe’s teachings stated that gays and lesbians and children who did not obey their parents should also be stoned to death. “There are sins for which the only answer is the guillotine,’’ he said.

Edward Ximba, secretary of the Nazareth Baptist Church, as Shembe is known, said Mthembu was replaced some time ago and had no mandate to speak on behalf of the church.

Ximba refused to say why Mthembu was fired, but said the church’s leadership would now decide what sanction he should face.

He said the church’s holy book, based on the five books of Moses in the Old Testament, said a person who continually “sinned against God’’ could be stoned, but said it should not be interpreted “literally”.

He said that Shembe didn’t allow gays and lesbians to join, and that the church’s teachings also allowed for them and children who disobeyed their parents to be stoned to death.

“Mr Mthembu has no mandate to speak on behalf of Shembe. It seems he may have become emotional and done this when he does not properly understand our teachings.

“They are not meant literally but rather metaphorically. We respect the Constitution, even if we don’t agree with some of its contents,” he commented.

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