Shembe leader succession saga likely to end up in court – expert

2011-04-04 12:47

The thorny issue of who should succeed the late leader of the Nazareth Baptist (Shembe) Church was likely to end up in courts, a law expert warned today.

“This matter is likely to end up in court if a compromise is not reached urgently,” said Lonia Ndlovu, the head of the law department at the University of Zululand.

There was serious confusion during the funeral of the late church leader, Vimbeni Shembe, yesterday when names of two people were announced as next leaders.

The church has four factions – three in KwaZulu-Natal and a fourth in Gauteng. Vimbeni Shembe headed the Gauteng faction.

During the funeral attended by many senior politicians, including President Jacob Zuma, Mduduzi Shembe, the son of the late Vimbeni, was announced as the successor.

He was apparently chosen after consultation between Vimbeni’s relatives and senior church leaders.

Barely a few minutes after Mduduzi was announced as the new leader, the church lawyer, Zwelabantu Buthelezi read a will left by the late Shembe naming Vela Shembe as his successor.

Sapa is in possession of a copy of the will the late leader signed in February 11 2000. Buthelezi also furnished Sapa with a hand-written letter allegedly authored by Shembe on March 16 to Buthelezi reminding him about the will.

Written in isiZulu, the letter read: “Dear Sir. I am not feeling well. I thought I should remind you about the name of the boy I gave you in case I die.”

The letter also instructed Buthelezi to announce Vela’s name during the funeral.

“You must announce his name during the funeral. You must ask for the opportunity to speak before they bury me.”

In the will, titled “Deed of nomination of trustee and titular head of the Nazareth Baptist Church”, Vimbeni said Vela’s name should be announced during the funeral to “avoid any dispute regarding the leadership of the church”.

Ndlovu said people who opposed Vela would have to prove in the court of law why they objected.

“The will is supreme. You don’t go against the wishes of the will unless there is proof that there was an undue influence of the person who made it,” said Ndlovu.

Buthelezi said he did not understand why some people alleged that the late leader was influenced to write a letter.

“The letter he wrote last month was just the confirmation of what he said 11 years ago,” said Buthelezi.

Chancy Sibisi, the church’s spokesman, refused to comment.

“We have no comment on the issue at this stage.”

Vimbeni died at his home at Ebuhleni village in Inanda yesterday.

Succession processes have always caused problems for the 5 million strong church.

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