Shembe showdown

2011-04-28 00:00

TWO leaders of the multi-million strong Nazareth Baptist Church, also known as the Shembe Church, are planning to excommunicate millions of members of the biggest faction, eBuhleni, whose leader, inkosi Vimbeni Shembe, was buried earlier this month.

The two leaders, inkosi Vukile Shembe of the eKuphakameni faction and inkosi Sizwe Shembe of the Ginyezinye faction, made the announcement at press conference in Durban yesterday where they also confirmed that unity talks between them have been successful.

They announced that they will now concentrate on, among other things, stripping the eBuhleni faction of the right to use church symbols, hymns and the church’s style of worship. This follows an announcement that the eBuhleni faction has changed its name to Shembe International Church.

Currently the church is divided into four factions: the eBuhleni faction, which is the biggest, followed by the Ekuphakameni, Ginyezinye and the Inanda-based faction led by the Reverend Mini Shembe, who died late last year.

At the time of Mini Shembe’s death the church was involved in a court battle to determine the rightful head.

During Vimbeni Shembe’s funeral, it was announced that the eBuhleni faction is registered as the eBuhleni Shembe International Church.

At the press conference yesterday, the two remaining Shembe rivals said they have attained unity and are planning to go to the high court in Pietermaritzburg to have the court case removed from the motion roll.

Unity has evaded this African traditional Christian church for 35 years since the death of inkosi Johannes Galile Shembe, who died in 1976 without appointing a successor. The church split into two factions then, but in the past three decades a number of other factions emerged.

In a joint statement yesterday, Vukile Shembe and Sizwe Shembe said Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has agreed towitness the signing of the unity agreement and that i thas the support of KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

The statement added, “We agreed to unite the church under one titular head and for the church headquarters to be returned to its traditional … [site] of eKuphakameni. From then the church and the Shembe family will work together to resolve all problems within the church and the family.

“We are also planning to take legal action to ensure that all church properties throughout the country and its heritage are all put under the control of eKuphakameni.

“We would like to distance the Nazareth Baptist Church from the eBuhleni Shembe International Church. We will take all legal route available to us in ensuring that the new church is stopped from using our church’s symbols,” the joint statement said.

The unity talks were facilitated by Durban North-based businessman and family member Landile Shembe.

The news about the plan to excommunicate the eBuhleni faction came as it is engulfed in its own power struggle over who will succeed Vimbeni Shembe.

At Vimbeni’s funeral, Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo of the AmaQadi clan announced one of Vimbeni’s sons, Mduduzi Shembe, as the next head, while Vimbeni Shembe’s lawyer Zwelabantu Buthelezi, announced the name of Vela Shembe as the one appointed by the late leader in his will as well as in a letter which he presented at the funeral.

The two eBuhleni factions are now involved in a legal battle to determine the rightful leader.

Last night Vela Shembe said he could not comment on the latest developments as he was preoccupied with the court battle.

Nhlanhla Shembe, the eldest son of Inkosi Vukile Shembe said the two other leaders can do whatever they want, but the eBuhleni group will continue to use the Shembe hymn book and uniforms and practise their worship the way they were taught by the founder of the church, Prophet Isaiah Shembe.

“This is not a business, they cannot put a copyright on a religion.”

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