ANC mourns death of Shembe church leader Vela Shembe

24 November 2017 - 17:25
By Bongani Mthethwa
Vela Shembe. File photo
Image: SowetanLive Vela Shembe. File photo

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has described the death of Nazareth Baptist Church leader Inkosi Vela Shembe as not only a sad loss to his family and church but to the province as well.

The leader of the Thembezinhle faction of the Shembe church died on Thursday night after long battle with cancer.

In a statement on Friday‚ the ANC said the organisation was deeply saddened by Vela’s death‚ describing him as a pillar of strength and wisdom to many people.

“We should not mourn his passing but celebrate his life and the role he played to promote values of ubuntu in our communities as a religious leader‚” said ANC provincial secretary Super Zuma.

He said Vela would be missed by millions of people in KwaZulu-Natal and that the role he played in building “our nation will never be forgotten”.

At the time of his death‚ Vela was embroiled a bitter battle with his nephew Mduduzi Shembe for control of the five million-strong church. Mduduzi is the leader of the bigger Ebuhleni faction. In October last year‚ Vela was declared the rightful leader when the Durban High Court ruled in his favour.

Butthe losing Ebuhleni faction appealed Judge Achmat Jappie’s ruling and the two warring factions were back in court last month where judgment was reserved.

Vela‚ known as “Imisebe yeLanga” (the sun’s rays)‚ was the brother of Vimbeni Shembe‚ who died in 2011. Mduduzi‚ known as “Unyazi lweZulu” (lightning) is Vimbeni’s son.

The bitter and sometimes bloody battle for control of the 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. Which faction has the right to the holy mountain of Nhlangakazi is also contested.

Followers of Shembe — which combines Zulu tradition with Christian values — believe that their leader is equivalent to Jesus Christ and women followers should be virgins before marriage.

Shembe rituals include baptism by immersion‚ the keeping of the Sabbath‚ observance of a seven-day fast before Holy Communion‚ and the celebration of Holy Communion at night‚ preceded by feet-washing ceremonies.

The church became divided along political lines during violence between the ANC and Inkatha in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1980s.