Shembe church says it will not be dictated to by the courts
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Followers of Mduduzi “Unyazi Lwezulu” Shembe are adamant that the courts have erred in their judgment and have vowed to continue showing their support to their leader, as no court has the jurisdiction of dictating who religious groups should follow.
Thousands of the Nazareth Baptist Church eBuhleni members, commonly known as the Shembe church, filled the streets of Durban to speak out against the alleged oppression, intimidation and smear campaigns caused by the rival Thembezinhle group.
The church has been embroiled in a decade-long leadership battle since the passing of its spiritual leader Vimbeni Shembe. Inkosi Vela Shembe was declared heir to the throne in 2016 by the Durban High Court but he died the following year.
Unyazi Lwezulu took the matter on appeal at the Pietermaritzburg High Court and lost. He proceeded to the Supreme Court of Appeal and lost again, before approaching the Constitutional Court which upheld Vela as the rightful leader.
The ongoing dispute resulted in the church splitting into two groups, with those behind Unyazi Lwezulu calling themselves the eBuhleni branch, while followers of Inkosi Vela called themselves the Thembezinhle branch.
Lizwi Ncwane, eBuhleni group spokesperson and legal advisor said it was their stand that no court of the land had jurisdiction to rule or to pronounce which leader should be followed by a religious group.
“Given that position, the eBuhleni members have tolerated talk by the Thembezinhle group claiming that the late Vela Shembe is the true leader of the church, that is incorrect or not accurate at all.
“The judgment did not conclude or make a decision as to who is the rightful heir and who is the legitimate leader, there is no such in any of the court judgments,” he said.
Ncwane said the court findings had no bearing on what has been the religious practice and the doctrines of the church, but that members were guided by the spirit as to whom they observe as the real Shembe leader.
“The utterances that are made by the Thembezinhle group that say we are disobeying the court by following inkosi uNyazi Lwezulu, that we are defying the orders of court have to stop. People came out in their numbers because this is a violation of their constitutional rights,” said Ncwane.
“The threats that are being directed at them and their leader inkosi Unyazi LweZulu, are in direct defiance of the prescripts of the constitution, which protects jealously their religious beliefs and practices,” he said.
Ncwane suggested to the Thembezihle group that instead of “preaching lies” on who the rightful leader is, they should preach the word of God and stop threatening the eBuhleni leader.
“The church wanted to go into the streets to show publicly that those people who are in Thembezinhle have nothing to do with eBuhleni and its members.
“We have every right to defend our faith, and what we believe in cannot be subject to any debate or compromise, and whoever differs from what we believe, is at liberty to follow or believe whatever they want to,” he said.
Ncwane told the Sunday Tribune that they had also been banned by a national radio station from delivering weekly sermons. He said this act reminded them of the old apartheid times when the Nazareth Church was not allowed to construct buildings as it was demonised and was also not allowed to ring the church bell as they were not recognised.
“This is a democratic country which has to be tolerant of diversities, more so when it comes to freedom of religion. They said we were being banned because we preach about uNyazi LweZulu and if they allowed us to continue, it would prove the Constitutional Court judgment ineffective,” he said.
Nkululeko Mthethwa, spokesperson for the Thembezinhle group, said those who took part in the march were only supporters of uNyazi LweZulu and not true members of the Nazareth Baptist Church, as marching was against the teachings of the church.
“Our core theology says you pray and seek God when you are faced with challenges.
“We want to extend our apologies to members of the public who were prevented from getting to their workplaces on time and going about their daily business,” he said.
Mthethwa said eBuhleni was refusing to acknowledge the truth, and for the group to ignore the court ruling was puzzling because they had approached the courts three times hoping for an outcome which favoured them.
“If they never believed in the justice system of South Africa, why did they appeal three times? UNyazi Lwezulu appealed three times and failed three times, it is then of double standards to say that this judgment is insignificant.
“The court has clarified four times who is the rightfully nominated leader, if you cannot accept that then you must leave the church,” Mthethwa said.