shembe house torched

TENSIONS over the leadership of the Nazareth Baptist Church took a new twist when a house belonging to Nkosi Sizwe Mudliwamafa Shembe of the Ginyezinye faction was gutted by a fire on Friday.

According to family members women and children were asleep in the house when unknown people set the place alight on Friday night. Sizwe Shembe was not in the Inanda house at the time of the attack.

Ginyezinye faction spokesperson Banga Thusi said they were shocked by the incident.

Thusi said the women had earlier conducted a prayer service in the house after they were barred from worshipping at the Shembe Ekuphakameni headquarters under the leadership of Prophet Vukile Shembe.

"The family members went to Ekuphakameni to worship but were refused entry," Thusi said.

Earlier on Friday Sizwe Shembe had sought a protection order from the court asking to be escorted to his home at Ekuphakameni in Inanda, north of Durban.

Thusi said they suspected the attack was related to an earlier altercation between members of Ekuphakameni and Ginyezinye.

"Church members were lucky to escape," he said. "But the house was completely damaged."

Thusi said they hoped the police would arrest the culprits because the identities of the people who had threatened the family were known.

The latest conflict follows the ruling by the Pietermaritzburg high court two weeks ago that Sizwe Shembe was the sole leader of the church and should oversee the Nazareth Ecclesiastical Endowment Trust.

But last week a different judge at the same court overturned the ruling, and instructed Sizwe and two other church members to refrain from representing themselves as trustees of the church.

The court ruled that Ebuhleni leader Vimbeni Shembe was the rightful head of the church.

The Nazareth Baptist Church was founded by Prophet Isaiah Shembe in 1910 but has been embroiled in a leadership dispute for more than 23 years.

The church is divided into four factions - three in KwaZulu-Natal and one in Gauteng.

Phakama Dooms of the Gauteng faction has called for unity in the divided church. He appealed to other Christian formations to pray for Shembe to resolve their dispute.