The KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg has ruled that the late Vela Shembe is the legitimate leader of the Shembe Church.
Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo handed down his judgment before a packed gallery on Friday.
Shembe was declared the lawful successor to the late leader of the church, Vimbeni Shembe.
However, because Vela has since died, this means the leadership will fall to Phinda Shembe. Phinda is Vela's older brother.
The court appeal centred around Mduduzi Shembe and his supporters – the Ebuhleni group – contesting a 2016 Durban court ruling that had declared his uncle, Vela Shembe (who has subsequently died), to be the legitimate leader of the church.
Mduduzi is the son of the late leader, Vimbeni Shembe.
Since Vimbeni’s death in March 2011, the two million-member church has been divided over who should be at its helm.
The succession battle erupted at Vimbeni’s funeral when his close friend, Chief Mqoqi Ngcobo, announced that Vimbeni had confided in him on various occasions his wish for his son, Mduduzi, to succeed him.
Moments later Vimbeni’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.
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