A FIST-FIGHT broke out between rival factions of the Nazareth Baptist, otherwise known as the Shembe Church, in the Durban High Court yesterday.
The scuffle was triggered by the arrival of Mduduzi Shembe, the leader of the Buhleni faction, one of two groups embroiled in a bitter court battle over the church’s control.
The fight broke out after Mduduzi’s bodyguards and those of his rival Vela Shembe – who leads the Thembezinhle faction – exchanged insults.
As their followers exchanged blows, the two leaders stood quietly in court on opposite sides and did not intervene in the fist fight.
About 10 police officers struggled to contain the fight and called for backup.
Police reinforcements arrived and ordered Mduduzi’s bodyguards and his entourage out of the court building.
Police then spoke to the group of about 30 people who were dressed in the church’s traditional flowing white robes.
The six bodyguards were dressed in black suits.
The brawl took place in the morning before court proceedings could get under way.
The secretary of Judge Achmat Jappie, presiding over the trial, then announced that the hearing would not continue.
“We cannot contain the crowd. The situation is tense; we are adjourning for tomorrow,” he said.
The two self-proclaimed leaders of one of South Africa’s most followed churches have been at each other’s throats since former church leader Vimbeni Shembe died in 2011.
The matter has dragged on in court for five years.
Earlier in the week, a video of the late Shembe Church leader’s funeral was played as part of court evidence.
In the video shown in court, Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo, chief of the Qadi tribe that donated land for the church’s headquarters, is seen addressing mourners on April 3, the day the late Shembe was buried.
According to the programme of the funeral, Ngcobo was supposed to speak as the local traditional leader and also as a person who knew the late leader of the church.
Instead, Ngcobo is alleged to have hijacked the funeral and said he was the only legitimate person to announce the leader to ascend the throne.
In the video he says: “Ngiyazi ukhona la, uze ungamemezeli ubulale ibandla lakwa Shembe” (I know you are here but please do not make an announcement. Do not divide the Shembe Church.)
Ngcobo was allegedly referring to Zwelabantu Buthelezi, the lawyer for the late Shembe leader.
He later announced Mduduzi Shembe as the “legitimate” heir.
On the same day of the funeral, Buthelezi said, as the lawyer of the late Shembe leader, he was given instructions legally to announce the leader to ascend to the throne.
“According to the wishes and signed handwritten letter, Vela is the legitimate heir. The leader (deceased) phoned me three weeks prior to his death reminding me of his wishes.” He is seen addressing hundreds of mourners in the video.
The trial resumes today.