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Vela rightful heir to Shembe throne

Vela Shembe, centre, who won the court battle for the control of the Nazareth Baptist Church, died at his home on Friday. /THULI DLAMINI
Vela Shembe, centre, who won the court battle for the control of the Nazareth Baptist Church, died at his home on Friday. /THULI DLAMINI

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein has ruled that Thembezinhle faction leader Vela Shembe is the rightful leader of Nazareth Baptist Church.

The court on Monday dismissed the appeal by the Ebuhleni faction to have its leader Mduduzi Shembe recognised as the rightful leader of the church, also known as Amanazarethe or Shembe church.

The judgment of the battle for control of the church had been raging since 2011.

Ebuhleni's appeal was dismissed with costs. The faction had appealed the Pietermaritzburg High Court's ruling last year, which declared Vela the legitimate leader.

Five judges heard the appeal on November 6 and all concurred in dismissing the application by Ebuhleni.

The judges further concurred with the 2016 ruling by judge Achmat Jappie in the high court in Durban that declared that Vela was the rightful leader of the church.

According to the attorney representing Thembezinhle faction, Trevor Nkosi, the SCA ruling meant that Mduduzi, son of the late leader of the church, Vimbeni Shembe, will have to hand over the leadership to the rightful successor to lead the church. The victorious Vela is the brother of Vimbeni.

"He has to hand over all the assets of the church and he has to vacate the properties," he said.

The SCA stated in the judgment that the factual findings of trial court were tested, no basis for interference and no material misdirections in findings of trial court.

The appellants (Ebuhleni) initially contended that the sole choice of the late leader was his son, which was expressed orally.

The court states that initially, appellants contended that Vimbeni's signature on a written nomination of Vela as a rightful leader after his death was forged.

However, the court ruled that the signature was genuine.

Nkosi added that the dismissal of the appeal was a big victory for the people.

"People are elated after eight years of the court battle. They feel that their leader has been vindicated because he was accused of a lot of things, they were chased away and could not worship where they used to. They had to find an alternative place," said Nkosi.

Lwandile Shembe, who represents the Shembe family that had been worried about chaos erupting after the judgment, said they were pleased by the Supreme Court of Appeal's outcome.

"As many would be celebrating a win at SCA on the Shembe leadership case, others will be wondering which temple to attend this coming Sabbath.

"I worry about those who are caught up in the confusion, especially those who came to church searching for God, only to find chaos," Lwandile said.

Thembezinhle spokesperson Nkululeko Mthethwa said the decision has now been confirmed by three different courts.

"We are happy about this decision. It has been eight long years but now we have come to an end. We just hope that everyone will now accept the new leader," Mthethwa said.

Members of the Ebuhleni faction didn't take kindly to the court's decision.

Spokesperson Thokozani Mncwabe said although they don't agree with the court's decision, they acknowledged it nevertheless.

"It is not a good decision for us because we still believe that that letter was not authentic. However, we will study the judgment and wait for the leadership to make a pronouncement. For now, we are calling for calm heads," Mncwabe said.

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