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Shembe Church Gathering

Photographer: Kim Ludbrook


Once a year 20,000 followers of the Zulu Nazareth Baptist Church, (Shembe Church) gather in the rolling hills of Kwa Zulu Natal province of South Africa to pray and dance and enjoy the community of fellow Shembe worshipers.


The founder of the church, Isaya Shembe, claimed to have had been approached by the Holy Spirit on top of the sacred mountain of Nhlangagazi in Kwa Zulu Natal more than 100 years ago and thus started the Shembe church. Seen as a mixture of Zulu tradition and Christianity, the church reveres the late Isaya Shembe as an African Messiah and emphasizes the Ten Commandments.


Split into groups of adult men, younger men, married women and un-married women the followers wear a combination of traditional Zulu dress and modern western dress with a hint of the colonial past of South Africa. At all times during the pilgrimage the followers are not allowed to wear shoes in the main worship area as a mark of respect. Blowing huge horns and playing massive bass drums the dancing lasts all day.


South Africa has a fascinating mixture of Christian based faiths that also connect and pray to their traditional African ancestors including the Shembe church and New Apostolic faith. Traditional spiritualties were often succeeded by Christian faiths brought to the country by the Dutch and latter British settlers.


Today Shembe followers number 4 million and successfully combine the African faith of ancestor worship and Christian based faith.