Shembe calls for peace in church

Canaan Mdletshe

The leader of the eBuhleni faction of the Nazareth Baptist Church, popularly known as the Shembe church, pleaded for "peace, tolerance and reconciliation" among its warring factions.

Vimbeni Shembe, 70, said the armed conflict within the congregation was preventing the church's leaders from doing their work. The church is mainly split into two factions - the Ebuhleni and the Ekuphakameni factions.

Documents show that the church was founded by Isaiah Shembe in 1910. After his death the church was led by his son, Johannes. The problems began when Johannes died before nominating a successor, which led to a split.

Some members supported Amos, Johannes's brother, while others supported a faction headed by Londo, Johannes' son. Today, Londo's son Vukile leads the Ekuphakameni faction while Vimbeni - Amos' son - leads the eBuhleni faction.

According to a high court ruling, the two factions must conduct the annual pilgrimage to the mountains separately.

Addressing tens of thousands of eBuhleni congregants in the foothills of the Holy Nhlangakazi mountain, Shembe said the church was facing mounting divisions.

"Here at the Nazareth there's no more love, but bells of war are ringing. There are people who carry firearms and try to stop priests from following their calling. This is something we never heard of in the church before and it is wrong. There's a lot of hatred," he said.

An emotional Shembe had a strong message for church members who had just completed the three-day j80km ourney to the top of the mountain and back on Saturday.

"I want this to stop. This congregation is not yours, but God's congregation," he said.

The event was attended by IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sbu Ndebele. Ndebele praised the Nazareth church, saying for the past nine decades it has done well to keep Zulu culture and tradition alive.

"While the country will be hosting the soccer World Cup next year, this church will be celebrating 100 years of existence.

"It is one of the oldest churches and was established at the same time as the ANC," Ndebele said.

He announced that a multi-purpose centre built in the area at a cost of R14million would be named after Shembe.

Buthelezi said: "If this church did not exist, our Zuluness would have long died."