Vela wins control of Shembe
"Let our robes be white like our hearts." That was the plea from Mduduzi Shembe, the head of the Ebuhleni faction who yesterday lost his five-year court battle for control of one of Southern Africa's most powerful churches, the Nazareth Baptist Church, known as Shembe.
The legal battle came to an end yesterday after the Durban High Court ruled in favour of the leader of the smaller Thembezinhle faction, headed by Mduduzi's uncle, Vela.
Mduduzi, who is the son of the late leader of Shembe, Vimbeni Shembe, who died in 2011, has vowed to appeal Judge Achmat Jappie's ruling.
Mduduzi Shembe with his lawyer Rajesh Choudree arriving in Durban High Court. He lost the case to Vela Shembe in the battle for control of the Shembe church.
The bitter and sometimes bloody war for control of the charismatic five million-strong church, founded in 1910 by Isaiah Shembe, has raged for decades.
At the centre of the conflict are assets estimated to be worth more than R100-million.
Mduduzi, known as Unyazi lweZulu (lightning), is 56 years old and Vela, known as "Imisebe yeLanga" (the sun's rays), is 54. Vimbeni was Vela's brother.
The assets of the church were frozen during the marathon trial and the ruling was also expected to shed light on who will be sole trustee of the church.
The court battle has been characterised by violent clashes between the rival groups.
Mduduzi argued in court it was the church's tradition that if the leader died, the son took over, but Vela provided a letter he said was written by Vimbeni anointing him as his successor.
The court ruled that Mduduzi failed to prove that Vimbeni ever nominated him as the heir.
Vela's spokesman, Nkululeko Mthethwa, said they were satisfied with the court's decision as it had confirmed who the rightful leader nominated by Vimbeni was.
"There was a lot of confusion on whether the late leader had nominated two people. So by going to court, we wanted to clarify the nomination that was made."
Mduduzi's spokesman, Thoko-zani Mncwabe, yesterday urged church members to be calm and respect the court's decision as the way forward would be guided by their lawyers and church leaders.
"We urge members of the church to be calm and desist from poking fun at each other. They also should not fight because God knows what he will do. Let us be the nation's mirror like Christians and stop fighting one another. Let our robes be white like our hearts," he said.