File image - The late Bishop Vimbeni Shembe

Durban - The independence of a handwriting expert testifying in the Shembe church court battle was questioned on Wednesday in the Durban High Court.

During cross-examination, Rajesh Choudree SC, for Mduduzi Shembe, questioned the independence of forensic document examiner Jannie Bester and his partner Leon Esterhuizen.

He said their discussions of the findings of a report as part of the quality assurance process conducted on completion of a document suggested they were working in cahoots with one another.

However, Bester said quality assurance was practised by laboratories worldwide, and by the SA Police Service, and there was nothing strange about the practice.

Bester and Esterhuizen found that a disputed signature on the deed of nomination of the late leader of the Shembe Church was authentic.

Bester said he discussed his findings with Esterhuizen only after completing his report.

The church, which is also known as the Nazareth Baptist Church, has been embroiled in a leadership battle since its leader Vimbeni Shembe died in 2011.

Vimbeni's son, Mduduzi, and his cousin, Vela Shembe, both want to succeed him.

According to a will, Vimbeni chose Vela as his successor, but some senior church leaders want Mduduzi to take over.

After failing to convince the church's elders of his nomination, Vela took the matter to court.

Bester was instructed to authenticate the signature of Vimbeni on his deed of nomination dated February, 11, 2000.

Bester said he was not aware of Esterhuizen's report when he compiled his own report.

When Choudree asked if they had not discussed the Shembe matter, Bester said they did not discuss profiles of their clients.

Bester said he and Esterhuizen had worked independently on the matter and discussed it only after their reports were complete.

“I have not read or seen the report. It's of no interest to me. We work independently,” he said.

Colonel Frik Landman, another handwriting expert, is expected to tell the court that the signature on the deed of nomination was forged.

The trial continues on Thursday. - Sapa