Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

The Nazareth Baptist Church of Prophet Isaiah Shembe is embroiled in another dispute - this time over rights to ascend to the holy mountain of Nhlangakazi.

The church is at present divided into three factions. Two are in KwaZulu-Natal, the Ekuphakameni and Ebuhleni clans, and one in Gauteng.

In the latest controversy the Gauteng Shembe group, led by Prophet Phakama Shembe, wants to embark on the annual pilgrimage to the Nhlangakazi mountain in KwaZulu-Natal next year for the first time.

But the Gauteng faction's plans have angered and shocked the KwaZulu-Natal factions.

The spokesman for the Shembe in Gauteng, Pat Dooms, said Phakama was "the physical embodiment of the creator on earth".

"It is a major spiritual breakthrough within amaNazaretha under the leadership of Phakama," Dooms said.

"Inkosi Shembe will be taking all his followers on a promised and prophesied spiritual pilgrimage to the mountain of God. It was once walked on by all the spiritual ancestors of all amaNazaretha."

Dooms said the church would "perform a special ritual" during the walk to unite the Shembe community.

"We are not aiming to insult anyone," he said. "Sometimes followers tend to ignore the rightful descendants of Shembe.

"Our prophet will take a special walk joined by his brother, Sizwe, who is a priest in the church.

"The aim will be to meditate and rededicate the peace of life and good health of our church. We don't want to be seen as a faction."

Chancy Sibisi, the general secretary of Ebuhleni, said: "We don't recognise them or accept them into our congregation of Ebuhleni.

"We don't know any other congregation except ours. We will talk to them once they contact us."

Velemafini Ximba, a spokesman for Ekuphakameni, expressed shock that Phakama's faction was preparing for the spiritual journey.

He said they were not consulted about the plans.

"There is nothing we can discuss with Phakama," Ximba said. "He is not even recognised as one of amakhosi in the church. He is an opportunist."

Ximba confirmed that his faction has an agreement with the rival Ebuhleni group to take turns in going to the holy mountain.

"We don't know any other people who have the right to ascend the holy mountain."

He said the mountain is vacant land and anybody was entitled to go there, but must abide by the church's constitution to pray at the graves of their former prophets.

The church was founded in 1909. The Phakama faction came into existence in the 1990s.

Phakama is the grandson of Prophet Johannes Galilee Shembe, after whose death the church split into two in 1976.