shembe groups in bid to heal church split

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

The crisis affecting the Ebuhleni faction of the Shembe Nazareth Baptist Church has its roots in the 1977 breakaway.

The Ebuhleni faction has called for an urgent meeting today to end the crisis.

In recent months the church, under the leadership of Prophet Vimbeni Shembe, has been embroiled in infighting and leadership rifts.

At the centre of the crisis are allegations that some members and leaders are "traitors and sympathisers" of the rival Ekuphakameni faction led by Prophet Vukile Shembe.

The leadership battle has been going on for over 30 years.

The first two leaders of the Ekuphakameni faction were assassinated in office.

Velemafini Ximba, the Ekuphakameni faction spokesman, said the church was founded by Issiah Mdliwamafa who established its headquarters at Ekuphakameni in Inanda in 1910.

"It is where he died and was buried," Ximba said.

He said when Shembe died in 1935, his son Johannes Galilee Shembe, the son of his third wife, became successor.

"When Galilee died there was an agreement that although his son Londa would take over, the family were in mourning and his brother Amos should be the temporary regent.

"But when Londa was about to take over in 1977, there was a split and the Ebuhleni faction was led by Amos Shembe," Ximba said.

In 2006, efforts at reconciliation failed.

Some observers said that the new faction is a money making venture and therefore those in power would not give it up.

An elder who wished to remain anonymous said: "The Shembe family knows the truth and wants to unite, but others feel that a reconciliation would harm them financially and materially."

Meanwhile, squabbles within the Ebuhleni faction are continuing, with some elders accusing Vimbeni Shembe of fraud and corruption.

Several senior church leaders of the Ebuhleni faction had their houses on church land set alight.