Shembe worshippers make annual pilgrimage to 'holy' mountain

07 January 2019 - 15:43 By AFP
Followers of the Nazareth Baptist Church from the Ekuphakameni group, also known as the Shembe Church, dressed in traditional attire, descend the Nhlangakazi Holy Mountain after attending the first sermon in Ndwedwe, 85 kilometres north of Durban, on January 5, 2019.
Followers of the Nazareth Baptist Church from the Ekuphakameni group, also known as the Shembe Church, dressed in traditional attire, descend the Nhlangakazi Holy Mountain after attending the first sermon in Ndwedwe, 85 kilometres north of Durban, on January 5, 2019.
Image: RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP

Thousands of white-robed devotees of the Shembe Church in South Africa greeted the New Year last week by climbing the mountain of Nhlangakazi, sacred to them for more than a century.

Every New Year, people mostly from Inanda township, near the coastal city of Durban, trek barefoot about 80 kilometres (50 miles) and set up camp at the foot of the peak.

They believe that on its heights, itinerant preacher Isaiah Shembe received divine instructions to found the church.

Created in 1913 and also known as the Nazareth Baptist Church, the institution is one of the largest African traditionalist churches, combining Christianity with the Zulu culture.

Followers revere Shembe, who died in 1935, as their prophet.

After arriving at the base of the mountain, worshippers clamber up and down twice a day, led by women followed by men carrying sticks and then children.

They also tend wayside graves, laying flowers. It takes about an hour to reach the top, where they listen to sermons dedicated to peace and unity.

Yet while the church has many millions of followers, it is plagued by divisions and court disputes over leadership and access to the mountain. A larger faction today climbs a different mountain. Due to the tensions, police have been on duty at Nhlangakazi.



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