My pilgrimage was over but l stayed an extra day in Johannesburg to buy meat. l like food, l collect food every where l go and don’t trust people who don’t like food. What else are they denying? So I had a pungent bag of premium Indian and Zulu spices with impepho stalks to ward off evil spirits around my food. I had filled up two freezer bags with prime game, lamb and steak cuts. l have highly developed taste buds.
I needed to focus on my other obsessions as l’d lost my World Cup erection after Suarez’s handball. It snowballed into full-fledged erectile dysfunction after Argentina’s 4-0 mauling by Germany. The rest of the tournament then became passive voyeurism for me until psychic octopus Paul swam along. l began to wonder if l should see food, football and life beyond the satisfaction of tastes and textures and the monetization thereof.
On Saturday July 3rd Straun and Yvette picked me up bright and early. l was wearing the white tent like dress l bought at the market over my tights and Missoni mini, my ever present two tone brogues peeking out in. l warned them that they must feed the monster; I cannot be held responsible for what she does when her sugar levels go awry.
So we ducked into Woolworths, filled the tin can with food and begin the long drive to Ekuphakemeni to visit the famous Shembe church.
On the way, l do frantic last minute research on my Blackberry but nothing would have prepared me for the reality.
The path and the grounds of the church are lined with stones painted white. Adherents all dressed in white huddled in groups, kneeling and washing their limbs. We were met by the Church’s secretary general Velemafina (one who comes from the clouds) Ximba Edward. This part of the church, he informs us, is restricted to women to preserve its sanctity but we were exempt.
Ximba told a fascinating story: the prophet Isaiah Shembe I, an uneducated Zulu had founded the church 100 years ago after a visitation from God on a mountain. He designed the teachings and tenets of the church as hymns in Zulu. The church is said to originate from Ethiopia in the cradle of humanity and is indigenous to Kwazulu Natal but with a universal message for the world and codes for the renaissance of Africa.
All of it bears a close resemblance to the cherubim and seraphim as well as the Celestial church, which originated in Nigeria. These churches, also called the white garment churches, have similar dress codes and strong musical heritage as well as a similar amalgamation of Jewish, Christian and local traditional rites and rituals. I was very curious to know if there are any links but it seems that the Shembe church is unaware of these kindred churches in West Africa. Curiously none of the founders of these churches were known to have been exposed to Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
Legend has it that the Shembe church played a pivotal role during the apartheid struggle. Ximba says that the church was a conduit for struggle donations and a bastion of peace preaching even as the apartheid regime sponsored black on black violence. Shembe III, father of the present leader, was assassinated right on the church premises for fostering peace amongst the Zulus. The current Amakhosi (prophet) thus became leader at age 8, which caused the church to factionalise. I ask him about this and his explanation is that some left because they thought the church too strict. The Shembe church is very austere and puritan, they lay no emphasis on miracles although they admit these happen. Contributions are voluntary or specific to purpose.
There are several holy spots and a tabernacle where the Ark of the covenant and holy vessels are kept as well as the former home and final resting places of Shembe I, II and III. I never did ask about their wives. The church bell sounded and it was time to go for service.