Shembe camps wait

2017-10-24 13:40
Succession battle continues
Mduduzi Shembe follower Khule Mbuyisa was all smiles against a backdrop of badges of her church leader while waiting for the outcome of the church’s succession battle at the high court on Monday.

Succession battle continues Mduduzi Shembe follower Khule Mbuyisa was all smiles against a backdrop of badges of her church leader while waiting for the outcome of the church’s succession battle at the high court on Monday. (Ian Carbutt)

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The decision on who should be declared the lawful successor to the late leader of the Nazareth Baptist Church — known as the Shembe Church — is now in the hands of three KwaZulu-Natal judges.

The hotly-contested leadership battle came to the high court in Pietermaritzburg on Monday, with Mduduzi Shembe and his supporters contesting a 2016 court ruling that had declared Vela Shembe to be the legitimate leader of the church.

Mduduzi is late leader Vimbeni Shembe’s son, and Vela is his cousin.

The courtroom was physically divided in half on Monday with police forming a dividing line between the supporters of each of the factions crowding into the public gallery.

Outside, police and traffic officers maintained a strong presence and controlled access to the precinct.

KwaZulu-Natal Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo, Judge Jerome Mnguni and Judge Thoba Poyo-Dlwati on Monday reserved their judgment after hearing legal arguments on behalf of both factions.

Representing Mduduzi Shembe’s camp was Advocate Rajesh Choudree, SC, with Advocate Archie Findlay, SC, presenting the case for Vela Shembe and his supporters

Following Vimbeni Shembe’s death in March 2011, the powerful Shembe Church, with many thousands of followers, has been divided over who should be at its helm.

The succession battle erupted at Vimbeni’s funeral when the late leader’s lawyer, Zwelabantu Buthelezi, produced a “nomination deed” allegedly signed by the late leader.

It declared that he “nominates and recommends” Vela Shembe to take over the leadership role.

But Nkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo declared at the funeral that Vimbeni had confided in him on various occasions his wish for his son, Mduduzi, to succeed him.

The tussle over who should be declared the legitimate successor ended up in court with KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie ruling last year that the nomination deed naming Vela as the successor was a legitimate document.

During the trial, evidence was led challenging the authenticity of the document, and suggesting that the late leader’s signature on the paper had been forged.

The Appeal Court heard that several handwriting experts were called to testify with a majority of “three to one” finding that the signature on the nomination deed was authentic.

There was also evidence that the late leader’s doctor had asked him about the issue of succession.

He testified that Vimbeni had told him that the matter was in the hands of his lawyer.

Meanwhile, hundreds of congregants who supported Mduduzi gathered at Dales Park in Pietermaritzburg on Monday while the high court appeal unfolded.

Cantrick Msani, a die-hard supporter of Mduduzi, told The Witness he felt the battle between Vela and Mduduzi was started by their forefathers.

“This is not a new case but it is a case that Unyazi Lwezulu [Mduduzi Shembe] has to win in order to free the souls of our forefathers who died without resolving this matter,” he said.

Msani, who is a pensioner, said he was at Dales Park with his family and the church.

“I will be here today, tomorrow and if the case continues on Wednesday I will still be here come rain or shine,” he said.

As the crowds of supporters waited patiently under the trees in Dales Park for news about the case, there was a sudden uproar as the congregants spotted what looked like a bright halo peeking through the clouds in the sky.

The crowds got down on their knees with their hands raised to the sky while reciting praises for Unyazi Lwezulu (Mduduzi Shembe).

One of the worshippers, Deliwe Mseleku, said she believed that the “halo” was a sign that indeed Mduduzi Shembe was the rightful heir to the leadership role.

Zandile Mnembe said she and many of the church members had taken time off work to show support for their leaders.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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