Uniting Shembe church a mammoth task for new leader - spokesperson

2016-10-19 13:20
Vela Shembe (Amanda Khoza, News24)

Vela Shembe (Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Durban – Uniting the divided Nazareth Baptist Church's 4.5 million congregants was going to be a mammoth task for new leader Vela Shembe, the church's spokesperson said on Wednesday.

"There will be a meeting at Mthwalume, where we will reflect and interrogate the judgment. Inkosi Vela will meet with the committee and they will plan a way forward on how the matter will be handled going forward and how we can unite the church," said Vela's spokesperson Nkululeko Mthethwa.

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 church, which is commonly known as Shembe.

The battle for supremacy of the multi-million member church had been in court since its leader Vimbeni Shembe's death in March 2011. His son, Mduduzi, and Vimbeni's cousin, Vela, both claimed to be his rightful heirs.

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.

10 000 followers

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.

Mthethwa said the first task that Vela faced was uniting the church.

"The challenge here is that Mduduzi has more than four million followers and we are in the minority, with about 10 000 followers. It is going to be extremely tough."

However, Mthethwa said Vela and his supporters were happy that the historic judgment had vindicated late leader Vimbeni Shembe.

"Our main aim for taking this to court was because we wanted to preserve the legacy and integrity of the late leader," said Mthethwa.

A question of loyalty

Legally this means Vela is the legitimate leader of the church as pronounced on Tuesday.

"Anything said by anyone else but Vela will not be recognised pending the outcome of the appeal next year. Inkosi Vela's word will be final on all matters going forward."

"Those who refuse to accept will need to do a thorough introspection and interrogate where their loyalties really lie. Are they really with the late leader Inkosi Vimbeni who nominated Vela as his successor?"

Mthethwa said all those who accept the outcomes of the judgment would be allowed back into the church.

"We will not purge anyone. Those that are in senior positions will remain in their positions because we are a religious organisation, not a political one."

Broken relationship

Responding to questions, Mthethwa said the family was hoping to mend the broken relationship between the late leader's son and his cousin.

"Yesterday Vela tried to reach out to Mduduzi, but Mduduzi left too quickly. We are going to, through our lawyers, speak to his lawyers to ask if we can meet with him so that the two leaders can mend the relationship, because before Vimbeni died, the two were close. The problem is that the clergy is too protective of Mduduzi."

Mthethwa said if the two reconciled, Vela would consider lowering the amount that needed to be recouped for the legal costs.

"Currently we might have to recoup R18m and this is before the matter goes to the appeals court next year. If the two reconcile we will try and persuade the church, which is footing the legal costs, to lower the amount of money he has to pay back.

"At the end of the day, Mduduzi is Vimbeni's son and Vela is Vimbeni's cousin-brother, they are family and we don't want the family or the church to be poor," said Mthethwa.

Read more on:    durban  |  religion

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