The Shembe church
Did you know?
Shembe claim the vuvuzela – the plastic trumpet made famous by the 2010 World Cup – as their own invention.
The Shembe church, which has a membership of more than 1-million, is a blend of Old Testament-based Christianity and African Zulu beliefs.
Although it has followers throughout southern Africa, the Shembe church has its stronghold in KwaZulu-Natal and its belief system is steeped in Zulu culture. Basic ethics of the Shembe faith tend to mirror Zulu social and moral behaviour.
The historic lynchpin of the Shembe movement is its founder, Isaiah Shembe. Born in the shadow of the Drakensberg mountains near Giant’s Castle, Isaiah moved to the Harrismith area as a young boy. Legend goes that while working as a herd-boy, he heard a voice urging him to pray.
Shembe joined the Wesleyan Church briefly before going on to found his own healing ministry in 1910. A year later he formed a church called the Nazareth Baptist Church. He bought a farm and transformed it into his holy city of Ekuphakameni.
Apart from his religious teachings, Isaiah Shembe was an innovative and pioneering agriculturalist. He encouraged his followers away from the Zulu custom of constant cattle acquisition, suggesting instead that they bred well and kept a manageable number of milk cows. Being a man of vision, Shembe could see how the huge Zulu herds were overgrazing the lands and turning them barren.
Isaiah Shembe died in 1935 and left his church a wealth of recorded insights, philosophies, music compositions, hymns and a tradition of dance.
In January every year, many thousands of Shembe followers dressed in traditional white garments walk more than 30km from Ekuphakameni to their sacred mountain called Nhlangakazi. With constant singing and dancing en route, this moving pilgrimage attracts large numbers of tourists.
In October, tens of thousands of Shembe also gather at Judea Village near Eshowe, north-west of Durban. There’s a busy religious programme during this time – and a hectic social whirl as well.
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Tel: +27 (0) 35 474 4919