Tears as court rules in Shembe church dispute

2016-10-19 05:41
The Durban High Court on Tuesday ruled that Shembe's Vela Shembe was the legitimate leader of the church. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

The Durban High Court on Tuesday ruled that Shembe's Vela Shembe was the legitimate leader of the church. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Durban – It was a judgment that made grown men cry.

After a five-year court battle, the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban ruled on Tuesday that Vela Shembe is the rightful leader of the Nazareth Baptist Church.

Vela’s supporters sang and beat drums as they accompanied him from the court to his car in Anton Lembede Street following KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie’s ruling. Traffic came to a standstill as his followers hooted and revved their engines.

A few elderly men sat on the side of the road and cried tears of joy.

The battle for supremacy of the multi-million member church, commonly known as Shembe, had been in court since its leader Vimbeni Shembe’s death in March 2011.

His son, Mduduzi, and his cousin, Vela, both claimed to be his rightful heirs.

Vela and Vimbeni’s fathers were brothers and the two shared a close relationship. Vimbeni paid for Vela’s education.

Mduduzi Shembe, the son of the late Vimbeni Shembe lost the legal battle against his uncle Vela Shembe.

In line with the church’s constitution, which was adopted in 1999, Vimbeni nominated his successor in writing and left the deed of nomination with his attorney, Zwelabantu Buthelezi.

Buthelezi read out the deed of nomination during Vimbeni’s funeral in April 2011. In it, Vela was named as his successor.

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

The announcement prompted Vela to approach the court as he believed Ngcobo and others were trying to rob him of what was rightfully his.

The trial started in August 2011. Inside and outside courtroom A, members of the Mduduzi faction often traded insults and exchanged blows with the Vela camp and police had to pull them apart.

Although Jappie ruled in Vela’s favour, he granted the other side leave to appeal against his ruling.

A man who supported Vela Shembe weeps in joy after hearing that his leader had been recognised as the legitimate leader of the Shembe Church.

Handing down his ruling, Jappie said Ngcobo testified that Vimbeni Shembe had not instructed him to announce his successor. Vimbeni’s lawyer, Buthelezi, however received a letter weeks before the leader died, instructing him to do so.

Jappie said he concluded that Mduduzi failed to show on the balance of probability that there had been an oral nomination.

The court accepted the signatures on the deed of nomination were genuine, despite the attempts by Mduduzi’s lawyers to prove otherwise.

“Effect being given to the deed of nomination, Vimbeni appointed Vela as the leader of the Nazareth Baptist Church,” Jappie said.

Following the three-hour judgment, a visibly-agitated Mduduzi was whisked away in a luxury vehicle.

Vela told his supporters outside the court that Vimbeni had been vindicated.

 “I want to say to the world that I feel today that Vimbeni is vindicated, after being hurled with insults as someone who cannot be trusted because he nominated two leaders for one position. But today, the judge has told everyone who was nominated by Uthingo [Vimbeni]. So in the name of Uthingo, I thank God and all ancestors of the congregation,” Vela said.

One of Vela’s supporters, Sinohlangakazi Mthethwa, said God had closed the case and the real leader had been recognised and given his rightful position.

“This person was nominated in the will, but because of the Nazareth enemy, they challenged the nomination.”

“V Shembe is the leader of all the Nazareths. Our opponents need to find it in their hearts to accept the decision. Despite how they feel, they need to come home.”

Mthethwa said being a Shembe leader was a sacred position.  

“Only the leader that is currently in the throne can nominate his successor. Uthingo lwe Nkosazana [Vimbeni] had done that.”

In Albert Park, thousands of Mduduzi’s supporters put on a brave face and sang and danced as though the court had ruled in their favour.

Nduduzo Memela, 24, from Highflats, said the judgment meant nothing.

“Another court could come up with a different ruling. Let us leave it to the courts, but as far as I am concerned, Vela is not my leader. We took a decision on April 3, 2011 that Mduduzi would be our leader,” he said, referring to the date of Vimbeni Shembe’s funeral.

Another follower, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed.

“Even if the court had declared that [Unyazi] Mduduzi was the leader, I was not going to be surprised because I considered him and always will consider him, my God.”

The court was entitled to its own opinion, another supporter said.

“Who leads the church is not a decision that can or should be taken by the court. It is a spiritual decision and one's faith. We accepted a long time ago that Unyazi was our God. We are not defeated because Mduduzi will always be our leader.”

The matter resumes at the KwaZulu-Natal Appeal Court in Pietermaritzburg next year.


Read more on:    durban  |  religion

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