In KwaZulu-Natal, church members start the journey to the top of the holy Mountain Nhlangakazi. 100,000 pilgrims make a three day barefoot walk from the headquarters of the Nazareth Baptist Church, or Shembe. Shembe is staunchly a traditionalist Zulu cult that was founded in 1913 by Isaiah Shembe after a vision. Their beliefs are a mix of Old and New Testament and the ancestral veneration of traditional Zulu culture. The Nazareth Baptist Church (Church of Shembe) has Millions of members, but the group is still a mystery to many in KwaZulu-Natal. Isaiah Shembe, was born in 1867 among the Sotho people of the Free State Province of South Africa, to a Zulu polygamous father Mayekisa, and Sitheya Mlindi. 'Makeyisa' was a landless Farm dweller in Harrismith. As legend has it, when Isaiah Shembe 's mother was already pregnant, a voice said to her, 'You will bear a son who will be a special messenger'. Mayekisa did not grasp the full significance of the words because she was not a religious person. After Shembe's birth, his uncle Nhliziyo, gave him the name Shembe and his father named him Mudliwamafa meaning 'my inheritor'. Shembe styled himself as a biblical character and at his baptism in 1906 he changed his name from Mudliwamafa to Isaiah. Shembe died on 2 May 1935 after standing for three hours in cold water in a river administering adult baptism. Shembe never went to a formal school. He only learnt to partially read and write later in life. Although Shembe had little 'mission education' he was able to cite biblical verses, from memory, outwitting most European Missionaries. Whatever Shembe 'read' was supposedly not through learning, but came to him miraculously. If you have come across a circle of white painted stones around a tree and wondered how they got there, it is likely that you have come across a Shembe temple. The stones are used to mark the sacred places where they pray. Every October, more than 30 000 followers gather in the Village of Judea near Eshowe to celebrate the Shembe Festival. They sing, dance and pray. Another big gathering for the Shembe happens every January in ekuPhakameni - the original settlement of Shembe’s Community. The Shembe bought the Site in 1914.

EkuPhakameni is also home of the Shembe Temple, that was built in 1918. July is another special month for the Shembe. They return to Nhlangakazi for one of their most popular festivals of the Year. Thousands of members from all over South Africa attend. Scores of people also gather on the last Sunday of the month to witness the sacred dancing. The Inanda Heritage Route tour stops at several Shembe sites, including EkuPhakameni. Visitors can get a glimpse of the Shembe’s holy place, while learning more about the Church’s History. The tour makes a stop at the Ebuhleni Village, where visitors can have a look at some of the Shembe Church rituals. The Shembe Settlements have become popular destinations for visitors who love learning about History and Culture.

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