Shembe church leader dies of 'natural' causes

2017-11-24 11:27
Inkosi Vela Shembe.(Amanda Khoza, News24)

Inkosi Vela Shembe.(Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Cape Town - The leader of the Nazareth Baptist Church (Shembe), Inkosi Vela Shembe has died, his spokesperson said on Friday.

"It was a natural death last night. He was not shot dead [as rumoured]," said his spokesperson Nkululeko Mthethwa.

"This [his death] came as a big shock. He was normal, not suffering from anything," he said of the church leader who was in his sixties when he died at his home near Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal.

He said that although Shembe had been ill earlier this year, cancer was never confirmed.

There was a rumour in February that he had died, but this was later withdrawn by a woman who apologised for posting the erroneous information on Facebook.

Mthethwa said the church would leave it up to a post-mortem to tell them what had caused Shembe's death.

The church council will meet with family later on Friday to discuss funeral preparations, so those details are not yet available.

Succession is not something that will be discussed for at least a few months, said Mthethwa.

The church has been rocked by a leadership battle since the death of former leader Vimbeni Shembe in March 2011.

His son, Mduduzi, and Vela, who was Vembeni's cousin, both claimed to be the rightful heirs.

At Vimbeni's funeral in April 2011, two separate announcements were made regarding who would succeed him.

In one, his lawyer Zwelabantu Buthelezi said that according to the deed of nomination that Vimbeni had prepared before his death, Vela should be the successor.

However, Vimbeni's childhood friend, Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo, announced that Vimbeni's son Mduduzi was the rightful heir.

They could not settle the dispute themselves so they approached the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban. In October 2016, the court found in favour of Vela.

However, Mduduzi was granted leave to appeal, and judgment was reserved in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on October 23 this year.

The church's millions of members usually meet for worship on a Saturday and the full impact of Shembe's death is likely to be expressed then, said Mthethwa.

"He was a very kind man. A good, humble leader," he said. 

"He loved his people... the way he loved us... He said 'I will give my life for the sake of my people'.

"He resigned as a teacher so that he can serve us."

He said the church would not concern itself right now with an acting leader pending the outcome of the court appeal over the leadership tussle.

"We are not going to discuss it. We remain united under him (Shembe). Only God Almighty knows what will happen."

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