South Africa

Super-spreader or righteous march? Mzansi split over Shembe congregants 'walk for peace'

Super-spreader or righteous march? Mzansi split over Shembe congregants 'walk for peace'

Durban’s city centre was turned white on Tuesday when congregants of the Nazareth Baptist Church descended for a “peace walk”, sparking fierce debate on social media.

Thousands of members of the church’s eBuhleni faction marched in support of their preferred leader, Mduduzi Shembe. 

The church has been rocked by a long-standing succession battle after the death of Shembe’s father Vimbeni. The bitter fight went all the way to the Constitutional Court. In June the apex court dismissed Shembe’s grant for leave to appeal an earlier ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The crowd, believed to be about 10,000 strong, marched to Durban City Hall where a list of grievances were read and delivered. The memorandum was accepted by officials from the premier’s office and the municipality.

Spokesperson Nkosinathi Makhanya called on the ANC for support, threatening to hit the party in the upcoming elections if they do not receive it. 

“If the ANC thinks it can govern without us, our message is very clear: Let’s meet on November 1,” said Makhanya.

Pictures of the march went viral on social media, sparking fears of it being a Covid-19 super-spreader event.

Makhanya told Sunday Times Daily the faction did not expect such an “overwhelming” number of people to participate in the march and said they had taken steps to ensure safety protocols were followed. This included a group responsible for ensuring congregants wore masks.

eThekwini metro police superintendent Parboo Sewpersad said an application was approved for the gathering subject to it being in line with lockdown restrictions.

“The application was to be in line with the Disaster Management Act which prohibits  gatherings of more than 500 people. It’s the public order police who must answer to this. We just play a supporting role,” he said.

Social media was flooded with reactions to the march, some sharing their concerns about the size of the crowd during a pandemic and other claiming it was a “ necessary cause”.