Convenor arrested after thousands of Shembe church faction members march in Durban

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  • A convenor of a Nazareth Baptist Church Ebuhleni faction march has been arrested for the contravention of the Disaster Management Act.
  • The church members took to the Durban CBD on Tuesday and it was estimated that 4 000 to 6 000 people were there.
  • The eThekwini metro said that although permission was given for the march, it was meant for 500 people only.

One person was arrested after members of the Nazareth Baptist Church Ebuhleni faction breached Covid-19 protocols and gathered in their thousands in the Durban CBD on Tuesday.

Metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad said one of the main convenors of the march, Philani Lwandle, was charged with the contravention of the Disaster Management Act for "failing to comply with the rules and agreements".

READ | Judgment reserved in Shembe leadership succession case

There are strong divisions in the church after a succession battle between Mduduzi "Unyazi Lwezulu" Shembe and his late uncle Vela Shembe, who is aligned to the Thembezinhle faction. In 2016, the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban declared Vela the legitimate successor to late spiritual leader Vimbeni Shembe.

Members of the Ebuhleni faction flooded into the Durban CBD on Tuesday and handed a memorandum to officials in which they demanded that Mduduzi be declared the church's rightful leader.

A senior Ebuhleni faction official told News24 that even though thousands of members took to the streets of Durban without following proper Covid-19 protocols, the event would not be a super spreader.

"I do not think it would be a super-spreader event. We were regularly sanitising and regulating people. Everyone was wearing a mask. It is the same as sitting in a plane where there are people next to you. It is almost a similar situation," said Nkosinathi Makhanya.

We did not intend for such a large crowd

Makhanya said they did not intend to have thousands of people in attendance.

"Our church is one of the churches that upholds and respects the Covid-19 regulations. We take it very seriously. In our application, we intended to have 500 people, but unfortunately, the numbers exceeded our expectations."

He said they formulated a plan with the police to maintain some order, even though at least 4 000 to 6 000 people were there.

"We agreed to split them into groups. You will see in the videos that we were split and not exceeding 500 per group. The police were really assisting us to ensure we do not violate the regulations.

"As much as we appreciate the support, we never intended to have so many people join. This kind of [corona]virus is very dangerous and is killing lots of people. We lacked resources to mitigate the situation. The best we could have done was minimise it and install measures that help."

He added that marshals were sanitising people's hands and tried to ensure social distancing was maintained where possible.

Online images and videos painted a different picture of the demonstration. Thousands could be seen together, not in groups, and many were without masks. No social distancing was visible.

eThekwini metro spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said that the City gave permission for the gathering but did not expect such a high turnout.

"We do not accept anyone flouting regulations. It is SAPS' [responsibility to enforce] the regulations. We saw the videos but must state we gave permission based on strict Covid-19 regulations. The law will have to comment."

Commenting on the church's demands, Mayisela said they wanted to see the church united.

"It is a church here that is also a tourist attraction. There is nothing that will excite us [more than] seeing the church being unable to smoke a peace pipe. We are appealing for them to resolve whatever is dividing them. We would not want any impasse to lead to bloodshed."

News24 reached out to provincial police for comment. The comment will be added if received.

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