UNVEILING OF THE PLAQUE OF
THE SHEMBE HOUSE MUSEUM


REMARKS BY
MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI, MP
MINISTER OF HOME AFFAIRS AND
PRESIDENT, INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY

ESHOWE : DECEMBER 21, 2001

It gives me great pleasure to attend the unveiling of this important plaque at the Shembe House Museum. For me, this is a point of arrival of a long spiritual journey which began long before I was born. It is a pleasure for me to witness the growth of the Shembe Church with which I have always had very strong family and personal ties. On this occasion, I am pleased to see how the Shembe Church has survived many trials and tests and proven the worth of its original inspiration and its important role and place within the hearts and minds of our people.

The Shembe Church or the Baptist Church of Nazareth is deeply rooted in the history of South Africa and is a genuine South African church. It is also a genuine African church because it is so deeply rooted in the history of the Zulu nation. However, the Shembe Church is a church of the world as it is rooted in the most genuine and ancient Christian tradition which long pre-dates the establishment of other Christian churches, and even the Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of the Pope, which was the first established Christian church.

In fact, the Shembe Church sends its spiritual roots back in time and directly into the divine experience of healing, wonder and inspiration which took place in Galilee at the time of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. It has re-established the rituals and traditions of the Nasorean community which have been so brilliantly rediscovered only recently after the publication of the records of such community which were buried for two thousand years in the Dead Sea scrolls. Like the Nasoreans, the Shembe Church also places great spiritual emphasis on a specific diet which identifies certain foods which they believed should not be eaten by those who seek the spiritual enlightenment promised by our Saviour. By the same token and for the same reason, the Shembe Church has re-established the Sabbath as the holy day and has made a long-standing tradition of emphasising personal hygiene and washing, the same way it was emphasised in Galilee two thousand years ago.

For this reason, the value of the Shembe Church in our own context is extremely important as it merges traditions and periods of history in a unique African product which responds to the deepest aspects of our African spirituality while remaining extremely modern. Indeed, the Shembe Church has a message of hope and reconciliation and spiritual enlightenment which is undoubtedly suited to the 21st century, capable of being carried around the world in the age of globalisation. This success proves how blessed its founder originally was when he received his prophetic inspiration and founded this church. Indeed, since my childhood I have admired Prophet Isaiah Shembe and the memory of his magnetic and inspired personality.

The presence of the prophet was part and parcel of my own upbringing and family context. In fact, my mother’s brother, King Solomon, married the daughter of Prophet Isaiah, Zondi Shembe. Prophet Isaiah was part of our family and he often used to remark to King Solomon about my mother, often saying, "Your Majesty, your sister is very intelligent". He used to speak these words with an overtone of prophecy and a sense of great importance which, as it turned out, was rightly placed because my mother Princess Constance Magogo grew into a powerful figure who, with her presence and inspiration, helped shape the destiny of our nation.

My ties with the Shembe Church are indeed deep and marked by destiny. In fact, when my mother was expecting me, King Solomon sent her to Ekuphakameni, the most important site of the Shembe Church at the time, encouraging her to stay near Durban. She attended the ante-natal clinic at the McCords Hospital when its founder, Dr McCord himself, was still running it. Indeed, my mother was a great admirer of the prophet and used to tell me stories of his magnetic personalty, great wisdom and divine inspiration. I grew up with such stories and shared her admiration.

On this occasion, we need to celebrate how the original inspiration of the prophet was carried by his son the Reverend Johannes Galilee Shembe, once his father passed away. I used to attend the functions that the Reverend Johannes Galilee Shembe used to organise to carry forward the work of this church, especially the church’s July gathering which I often made a point of attending when my schedule was less heavy than it is today. I was very saddened when he passed away, because I was very close to him. However, I was also very close to his brother, the Reverend Amos Khula Shembe who in fact taught me geography at Adams College, highlighting how my destiny and that of the Shembe family has indeed been intertwined by the Will of God.

Having been so close to the Shembe family, I have also been very close to Reverend Londa Shembe, the son of the Reverend Galilee Shembe. In fact, the Reverend Londa Shembe used to come and see me in Ulundi during his lifetime. For this reason I was really extremely saddened when Reverend Londa Shembe and his uncle, the Reverend Amos Khula Shembe, had such a confrontational and difficult dispute on who should inherit the leadership of the Shembe Church. At the time, I was asked by the Reverend AK Shembe to intervene in the dispute and I did all I could to reconcile the two parties. The Rev AK Shembe told me that he wanted to be buried where his father and brother are buried at Ekuphakameni. That was the reason he asked me to do something about this matter. It was a difficult process which I will never forget and which should teach all of us the importance of unity.

Too many wars and conflicts have been generated throughout the history of mankind because of religious divisions. Religion should be that which unites, not divides people, and religious leaders should always recognise other religious leaders as servants of the same God who chooses to operate through different shepherds to attend to his flock. Throughout my life, I have preached and practised ecumenism and advocated the need for all religious leaders and people of goodwill to operate in harmony of intent and with commonality of hope and goodwill.

In fact, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul rebukes the church of Corinth saying "For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." [1 Corinthians 3 v 3 to 6]. In the book of Romans, Paul warns that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" while to be spiritually minded "is life and peace" [Romans 7 v 6 & 7]. If God is to give the increase to this church, strife and divisions must give way to spiritual maturity and unity within the body. It is my prayer for the Shembe Church that biblical principles will prevail to bring the blessing of God. Jesus Christ did not come to condemn, but to save. In fulfilling the law by His death, He did not preach religiosity, but a relationship with the Father.

During his lifetime, as I have already indicated, the Reverend AK Shembe often invited me to his place called Judea especially when I was the Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government. He was the one who asked me to negotiate with the Reverend Londa Shembe to bring together the church and avoid the conflicts which tore its followers apart. He was very attached to his home at Ekuphakameni and often told me he wanted to be buried there. His greatest desire was to see the reconciliation of the church during his lifetime and I think that his greatest regret at death must have been that he did not live to see such reconciliation. In doing so, he bequeathed his desire for the reconciliation of the Shembe Church to its present spiritual leader, the Reverend Vimbeni Shembe, who also accepted my playing a reconciliatory role between the two factions of the church. Unfortunately, because of my schedule having become so heavy and forcing me to be away from KwaZulu Natal so often to attend to my ministerial duties in Cape Town and Pretoria, I was forced to entrust this delicate task to Inkosi Nyanga J. Ngubane, our Minister for Traditional Affairs and Local Government.

I understand that Inkosi Ngubane set up a meeting to bring about this reconciliation. It is regrettable that on the day which was so fixed, the other party to this dispute chose not to attend, or perhaps was not able to attend. It is even more regrettable that so much bloodshed in the past tainted this dispute. One really wonders how it is possible that the message of redemption, hope and reconciliation of our Saviour could be the basis on which any type of conflict can be perpetrated. We must accept and firmly profess that any violence perpetrated in the name of religion, or under the pretext of religion, is violence of the worst type, for it is violence not only against man but indeed against God.

It was tragic that the Reverend Londa Shembe was killed before the reconciliation was effected. In many ways I feel that because of my history of affiliation with the Shembe family, I am indeed a member of this family, and as such on this occasion I want to make an appeal and plead that we owe it to the Prophet Isaiah Shembe and his illustrious son, the Reverend JG Shembe about whom we are gathered here today, to resolve this conflict. It is time for people to join together in one place and at one time to do that which they are meant to do together, which is to worship the Lord Almighty. I feel that any differences should be set aside and that God's people must come together to worship, so that the spirit of God may soften hardened hearts and prepare everyone concerned to desire the next step in the process of reconciliation.

I appeal to every member of the church present here today to make the first step to reach unity, and let God take control of your hearts, leading you where He wishes His church to be. I feel that it is essential that division be set aside to bring about the work of God on earth and to assert the glory of His presence through the hope and goodwill that His servants can generate through their unity, spirituality and good deeds.

For this reason, I feel that on this occasion as we unveil this important plaque of the Shembe House Museum, we must not only recollect the past, but all dedicate ourselves to a future of unity, goodwill and reconciliation. If we can reach unity and goodwill within this church, we will be able to do the same in our communities and from there in the whole of South Africa. Let the work of God begin from here and let the fire of reconciliation ignite in our hearts. Let us make this commitment now and forever. As we are so close to Christmas, this is the time for our own spiritual rebirth and for a new beginning for this church. Let us pray and let our prayers forever be remembered as the commitment we make today as we unveil this important plaque.

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