Vela Shembe with his supporters outside court on Tuesday. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Durban - While KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie on Tuesday ruled that Vela Shembe is the leader of the eBuhleni faction of the Nazareth Baptist Church, Mduduzi Shembe intends appealing the entire judgment.

The judge granted Mduduzi’s application for leave to appeal soon after the judgment was handed down on Tuesday.

The appeal is expected to be heard early next year before the full bench of the KZN High Court, which sits in Pieter­maritzburg.

Both Vela and Mduduzi Shembe were present in court for the conclusion of Jappie’s judgment, which began on Monday.

Followers from the Buhleni faction of the Nazareth Baptist Church, also known as the Shembe Church, who waited patiently outside court, then proceeded to nearby Albert Park for Mduduzi to address the crowd. His followers said they still considered him to be their lord.

Speaking to the media outside court, Vela said he felt their late leader, Vimbeni Shembe, was vindicated on Tuesday after being held as a person who could not be trusted because he nominated two people for one position.

“But today, the judge told everyone who was nominated by uThingo (Vimbeni), so in the name of uThingo I thank God and all the ancestors of the congregation,” he said.

A leadership dispute began five years ago, after Vimbeni Shembe’s death.

At his funeral, Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo announced that Shembe’s son, Mduduzi, was the new leader.

However, Vimbeni’s cousin, Vela, claimed he was the rightful leader, and had a deed of nomination, which he said had been signed by Vimbeni.

This led to five high court applications in 2011, which were consolidated in August 2011.

During his judgment, Jappie said the deed of nomination was the basis of Vela’s Shembe’s argument, while Mduduzi had argued that his father had changed his mind and verbally nominated him as the successor.

The late leader’s attorney, Zwelabantu Buthelezi, had testified that Vimbeni had come to his offices in 2000 saying he did not want a repeat of what happened when the previous leader had died, and wanted to have the new leader’s name in writing.

A deed of nomination was drawn up, with the new leader’s name and identity document number, as well as the late leader’s signature.

Shortly before his death, Buthelezi said he had received a letter from the late leader reminding him of the deed of nomination.

The letter also told Buthelezi to introduce Vela as the new leader when he died.

Three handwriting experts testified, with two authenticating the signature, while the third expert doubted it was genuine.

The judge found there was “not a pillar” to stand against Buthelezi’s character, and there was nothing to suggest that he stood to gain from conspiring about Vela’s nomination.

“I therefore accept as fact that the late leader gave instructions to (Buthelezi) about the nomination,” said the judge.

On the issue of the signature on the deed of nomination, Jappie said it was his view that the two handwriting experts’ evidence on the signature was the preferred opinion over the third, who suggested the signature was not genuine.

“What this letter makes clear was the late leader’s intent that (Buthelezi) announce Vela Shembe as the successor. In my view, that’s what the evidence led shows.”

He also felt Mduduzi failed to prove, on a balance of probability, that there had been an oral nomination in his favour.

The judge also had to decide whether Mduduzi should be held in contempt of court for a weekend ceremony that anointed him as the leader despite a court order.

Jappie found that this function was out of Mduduzi’s hands, and that Vela failed to prove Mduduzi had acted contemptuously.