Judgment reserved in Shembe leadership battle appeal

2017-10-23 20:59
Rajesh Choudree, for Mduduzi Shembe, argued that inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo expressed the wish of late Vimbeni Shembe when he announced that Vimbeni wanted his  son Mduduzi to succeed him as the leader of the Nazareth Baptist Church. (Mxolisi Mngadi, News24)

Rajesh Choudree, for Mduduzi Shembe, argued that inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo expressed the wish of late Vimbeni Shembe when he announced that Vimbeni wanted his son Mduduzi to succeed him as the leader of the Nazareth Baptist Church. (Mxolisi Mngadi, News24)

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Pietermaritzburg – The High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Monday reserved judgment in an appeal brought by Mduduzi Shembe, who lost a battle to lead the Nazareth Baptist Church, commonly known as Shembe, in October 2016.

The High Court in Durban had ruled that Vela Shembe was the correct heir to succeed the church’s late leader Vimbeni Shembe.

The leadership battle between Vela and Mduduzi began in 2011 after two announcements were made at Vimbeni’s funeral in March that year over who he had chosen as his successor, to lead the multi-million member church.

Vimbeni’s lawyer Zwelabantu Buthelezi brought a deed of nomination, signed on March 16, 2011, and a letter written by Vimbeni at the funeral, which suggested that Vimbeni had nominated Vela as his successor.

At the same funeral, inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo, who was a close friend of Vimbeni, announced that Vimbeni had "wished" that his son Mduduzi succeed him.

Mduduzi’s defence team argued that the signature on the deed of nomination, which suggested Vela was to succeed Vimbeni, was not that of Vimbeni but a "fake".

'Traditional issue' 

Rajesh Choudree, for Mduduzi, submitted that they relied on Ngcobo’s "oral nomination" because he occupied an important position in the church.

The court heard that Ngcobo had not been in the funeral programme to announce the successor but to welcome dignitaries.

Choudree said: "Ngcobo, his father and great uncle have been occupying an important position of announcing successors of late leaders in the church. He believed it was a traditional issue he had to deal with at the funeral as it was his area of jurisdiction. He expressed the wish of the late leader to the community."

Choudree said Vimbeni had "expressed his wish for his son to succeed him" on January 16, 2011, when Ngcobo visited him.

Archie Findlay, for Vela, argued that the letter and deed of nomination that Vimbeni had given to his lawyer Buthelezi were stronger than an oral nomination.

He asked why the deed of nomination did not have two names if Vimbeni had also wished that Mduduzi succeed him.

'An outsider' 

Findlay said Ngcobo was trying to pre-empt Buthelezi from making the announcement that Vimbeni had chosen Vela when he made the announcement at the funeral.

"He (Ngcobo) knew about the lawyer. He knew there would be a different announcement made at a later stage," said Findley.

Findley argued that Ngcobo was not prepared to see Vela as a leader of the church as he considered him "an outsider".

Inside the court, the two factions were separated by police members and a red tape to prevent them from fighting. 

Mduduzi’s faction wore white gowns, while Vela’s faction wore suits and ties. 

Mduduzi and Vela were not present during the court proceedings.

There was a large police contingent outside the court during and after the proceedings.

KZN deputy Judge president Isaac Madondo reserved judgment on the matter.

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