Shembe leadership battle to return to court

2011-04-22 07:06

The battle for control of the Nazareth Baptist (Shembe) Church and its considerable wealth will be settled by the Durban High Court on June 22.

This after the high court yesterday adjourned a return hearing in an application by its ousted heir-apparent and a counter application by his rivals to have its bank accounts frozen.

Vela Shembe had been nominated to take over the church by its leader, Vimbeni Shembe, before his death on March 25.

Vela lodged the application to have the announcement by local chief, Mqoqi Ngcobo, set aside that Vela’s cousin, Mduduzi Shembe, was now head of the church.

Ngcobo, who presides over the Ebuhleni area where the church is based, had announced that Mduduzi was the new leader minutes before the deceased leader’s lawyer, Zwelabantu Buthelezi, was to have confirmed Vela as leader.

The announcement sparked an outcry at the funeral, with opposing factions being angered and the tactical unit detachment which accompanied President Jacob Zuma having to escort Buthelezi from the area under armed guard.

Both Vela and Mduzuzi have, since the initial application, ministered to their respective followers – Vela at Mtwalume on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast and Mduduzi at the church’s headquarters in Inanda north of Durban.

In his court papers, Vela, a schoolteacher, said that Vimbeni Shembe had named him as successor in a deed of nomination and confirmed this decision in a letter to Buthelezi shortly before his death.

He also confirmed Vela as sole trustee of the Church of Nazareth Ecclesiastical Endowment Trusts, which administers the considerable wealth of the church, which has an estimated 5 million members in KwaZulu-Natal alone.

However, Ngcobo had, after finding out that Vela was to be appointed, intervened minutes before Buthelezi was scheduled to make his announcement, naming Mduduzi instead.

The counter application, aimed at having the court freeze the church’s three bank accounts containing millions of Rands until the leadership tussle is resolved, was brought by Reverend Mbongwa Friend Nzama, the chairperson of the church’s executive committee, who backs Mduduzi for the leadership of the church.

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