Shembes celebrate first 100 years

2010-03-13 00:00

AFTER decades of division, one of the biggest independent churches in southern Africa, the Nazareth Baptist Church — better known as the Shembe church — will this weekend host separate centenary celebrations.

The two main factions — the eKuphakameni under Inkosi Vukile Shembe and eBuhleni under Inkosi Vimbeni Shembe — will be having their events today and tomorrow, respectively.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize and King Goodwill Zwelithini are expected to grace the Ekuphakameni celebrations in Inanda today, while President Jacob Zuma and other high-profile guests are expected to converge at eBuhleni in Mzinyathi, Ndwedwe, tomorrow.

The church was established on March 10, 1910 by the late Prophet Isaiah Mudliwamafa Mloyiso Shembe.

It is currently divided into four factions, all led by the direct descendants of the founder.

The biggest faction, which is estimated to be four million strong, is based at eBuhleni and the second biggest, with about 800 000 members, at the headquarters of the late Prophet Isaiah at Ekuphakameni.

The founder of the church was illiterate and so were his parents. He was born at Ntabamhlophe in the Est­court area. It is estimated he was born in 1867. He died on May 2, 1935 at one of his church homes called Mikhaiden in the Mpangeni district in Zululand.

The third faction is the Ginyezinye, based in Trust Feed in the Wartburg district. Its leader is Inkosi Sizwe Mudliwamafa Shembe, the eldest son of Pastor Nkanyezi William Shembe who was the general heir of the Inkosi Johannes Galile Shembe, who led the church after his father, the founder, died. He is regarded as the last “legitimate” leader of the church.

The fourth faction is led by Inkosi Phakama Shembe, the son of Sunnyboy Shembe, another of Inkosi J.G. Shembe’s sons.

Premier Mkhize’s spokesman, Ndabezinhle Sibiya, confirmed that Mkhize will lead the provincial government delegation in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the church.

Spokesman for the eKuphakameni faction, Velemafini Edward Ximba, said the celebration is a milestone for the church.

“It is not an everyday thing to be with God for a hundred years, and this needs to be celebrated with everything we have,” Ximba said.

He said every member of the church will carry a bunch of flowers and the celebrations will commence with worshippers circling the eKuphakameni premises seven times.

“We will then go to the holy bush where the prophet and other leaders of the church are buried in a mausoleum, and there will be a wreath-laying ceremony led by the premier and other dignitaries.

“Thereafter, speeches from the guests will be delivered. In the evening we will start the slaughtering of beasts for the feast on Sunday.

“The feast will be preceded by umgido [the holy dance],” Ximba said.

The secretary-general and spokesman for the eBuhleni faction, preacher Chancy Sibisi, said they started their celebrations at the beginning of the month.

“Normally during the month of March we celebrate the birth of the Nazareth religion in Africa as it is the month the prophet started the church.

“We go to different parts of the country teaching one another about the principles of the church from what was taught to us by the late prophet,” Sibisi said.

This faction was established by the late Inkosi A.K. Shembe, brother of J.G. Shembe and father to the present leader, Inkosi Vimbeni Shembe.

They were expelled from the main headquarters of the church at eKuphakameni during the height of the conflict between Inkosi A.K. Shembe and Inkosi Londa Shembe in the late 1970s.

Inkosi Londa Shembe was assassinated in the late 1980s and his youngest son is Inkosi Vukile Shembe, the present head of the eKuphakameni faction.

Sibisi said the March celebrations are like Christmas to the Shembes as they celebrate and exchange gifts.

According to Bamba Thusi of the Ginyezinye faction, for the past two weeks their congregants have been at the holy mountain of Nhlangakazi in Ndwedwe celebrating the centenary.

“We are celebrating right on the Nhlangakazi mountain and we went up on March 10. That’s where Shembe met the Almighty God. Because of the historic significance of the event that’s why we will be celebrating there,” Thusi said.

“The culmination of the Ginyezinye faction’s celebration will be tomorrow, where together with the local people, we will be celebrating.

“We will slaughter some animals and everyone in the community will be there,” said Thusi

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