South African worshippers make annual pilgrimage to holy mountain – The South African


Originally published by Agence France-Presse (AFP), photographs by RAJESH JANTILAL.

Thousands of white-robed devotees of the Shembe Church in South Africa greeted the New Year last week by climbing the mountain of Nhlangakazi, sacred to them for more than a century.

Oldest independent indigenous Church in Southern Africa


A follower of the Nazareth Baptist Church from the Ekuphakameni group also known as the Shembe Church dressed in traditional attire prays at the Nhlangakazi Holy Mountain in Ndwedwe 85 kilometres north of Durban on January 5, 2019. – The devotees climb the mountain as part of their annual pilgrimage. The church was founded in 1913 and is one of the largest African traditionalist church in Africa. They walk up to 80kms barefoot praying, worshipping, singing, dancing and camping on their four weeks stay at the mountain. The Shembe Church is the oldest independent indigenous Church in Southern Africa. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

Every New Year, people mostly from Inanda township, near the coastal city of Durban, trek barefoot about 80 kilometres (50 miles) and set up camp at the foot of the peak. They believe that on its heights, itinerant preacher Isaiah Shembe received divine instructions to found the church.

Created in 1913 and also known as the Nazareth Baptist Church, the institution is one of the largest African traditionalist churches, combining Christianity with the Zulu culture. Followers revere Shembe, who died in 1935, as their prophet.

After arriving at the base of the mountain, worshippers clamber up and down twice a day, led by women followed by men carrying sticks and then children. 

Disputes over leadership and access to the mountain


Women followers of the Nazareth Baptist Church, from the Ekuphakameni group also known as the Shembe Church dressed in traditional are seen at the Nhlangakazi Holy Mountain in Ndwedwe 85 kilometres north of Durban on January 5, 2019. – The devotees climb the mountain as part of their annual pilgrimage. The church was founded in 1913 and is one of the largest African traditionalist church in Africa. They walk up to 80kms barefoot praying, worshipping, singing, dancing and camping on their four weeks stay at the mountain. The Shembe Church is the oldest independent indigenous Church in Southern Africa. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

They also tend wayside graves, laying flowers. It takes about an hour to reach the top, where they listen to sermons dedicated to peace and unity.

Yet while the church has many millions of followers, it is plagued by divisions and court disputes over leadership and access to the mountain. A larger faction today climbs a different mountain. Due to the tensions, police have been on duty at Nhlangakazi.



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