The Durban High Court on Tuesday ended Mduduzi Shembe’s self-acclaimed leadership of the Nazareth Baptist Church, declaring Vela Shembe the rightful leader.
Thus, the court concluded a five-year court battle for who should lead the over five million followers of the church.
In his conclusion, KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie said he found in favour of Vela Shembe, the cousin of Mduduzi’s late father, Vimbeni, as titular head of the church, popularly known as Shembe.
Once the verdict was out in the open, Vela’s supporters were over the moon with joy. They sang and beat drums as they accompanied him from the court to his car in Anton Lembede Street. Also, a few of them cried tears of joy while they sat on the side of the road, bringing traffic to a standstill.
The two men got entangled in the battle for the succession of the multi-million member church after the death of its leader Vimbeni Shembe in March 2011.
Consequently, Vimbeni’s son, Mduduzi and his cousin, Vela, both claimed to be his rightful heirs. Thus, they decided to settle the matter in court and the trial started in August 2011.
Both Vela and Vimbeni were cousins who shared a close relationship. Vimbeni actually saw Vela through school. Prior to his death, Vimbeni obeyed the church’s constitution, which was adopted in 1999, and named a successor in writing.
The deed of nomination was left with his attorney, Zwelabantu Buthelezi who read out the deed of nomination during Vimbeni’s funeral in April 2011. Notably, his cousin Vela was named as his successor.
However, major controversy was birthed when Vimbeni’s childhood friend, Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo, announced that Vimbeni’s son, Mduduzi, was the rightful heir to the throne.
This led to the court case as Vela believed that Ngcobo and others were trying to cheat him out of his rights.
Though the court ruled in Vela’s favour, it granted the other side a chance to appeal.