Pretoria, South Africa - A titanic court battle is looming within the Shembe church after one of its five factions was awarded the exclusive right to use the church's name, hymns, prayers and religious uniform.
The Ekuphakameni faction revealed yesterday at a press conference in Durban that none of the others were allowed to use the name Nazareth Baptist Church or Shembe or iBandla lakwaShembe.
The Nazareth Baptist Church, also known as Shembe (iBandla lamaNazaretha), is believed to have more than 1-million members.
Ekuphakameni Congregation secretary general Edward Ximba yesterday said their leader, Inkosi Vukile Shembe, who is the great-grandson of the church's founder, had given instructions to "protect the church from people who were exploiting its treasures".
The church was founded in 1910 by Isaiah Shembe. After his death in 1935, several succession conflicts occurred, ultimately resulting in the formation of five splinter groups - the Ekuphakameni, eBuhleni, Ginyezinye, Mini and Gauteng factions.
In July 2003, the Ekuphakameni filed court papers to secure the trademark.
"We waited for nine years for anyone to file opposing papers, but no one did that and on March 4 2011, we officially registered the trademark," said Ximba.
He said they now held sole rights to administer anything to protect the Nazareth brand, and anyone using anything associated with the church would be committing a criminal offence.
"We have the original trademark certificates, giving us the sole right to use any of the church material. No one else is now legally permitted to use anything [that has] to do with the church, except Ekuphakameni members, without authority from the leader or executives," he said.
The trademark prohibits the splinter groups from preaching the religion in any form, through TV, radio or newspapers. No one is allowed to preach in trains using the word Shembe. It also prohibits the singing, dancing to and recording of any hymns composed by Prophet Isaiah Shembe, Inkosi JG Shembe or Londa Nsikayomlilo Shembe officially published in 1940 for the Nazareth Baptist Church.
They are also forbidden from using the prayers or any of the church's literature. Other factions are also prohibited from participating in the annual pilgrimage to the Holy Nhlangakazi Mountain.
"They are not even allowed to wear the robes or attire, and those found to be doing so will be prosecuted," he said.
So serious is the church about the trademark and its finances that it also intends to hire a firm of auditors to tackle any infringements.
Ximba also warned the media against using the Shembe name or the word Nazareth in reference to any other faction, threatening to sue if they did.
Although none of the representatives of the other factions were available for comment yesterday, Pat Dooms, spokesman for Inkosi Phakama Shembe of the Gauteng group, said: "I am not aware of the developments. It's the first time I'm hearing about it and I will have to consult Inkosi Shembe on the matter. We are going to contract some legal experts. No one has exclusive rights to what is a family name."