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More than a church: health benefits of devotion to Shembe teachings and lifestyle the case of Shembe congregation in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

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Health and well-being have always been one of the issues humans have been concerned with since time immemorial. It does not come as a surprise then that religion is built around the bedrock of wellbeing. The promise of wellbeing is one major pull that religion has on people and thus more than 80% of South Africans identify as religious. The most basic instinct of any species is survival. Survival either through reproduction or otherwise. Humans are the most successful species in that regard as they have various survival tactics that have propelled them to the top of the food chain despite their obvious physical limitations. One discipline which has particularly helped humans in this regard is that of health. With the theme of wellbeing, a recurring one amongst most if not all religious movements, African Churches are no different in this regard. It is for this reason that studying Shembe seemed like something that is worthwhile. It is a prominent African faith followed by millions with its core following in KwaZulu-Natal. To ascertain to what extent are Shembe’s teachings not just spiritual but also have health benefits if they are adhered to, this was the primary aim of the study. This is a desktop qualitative study that looked at the enigmatic Shembe people of Ekuphakameni led by V.V Shembe who is the great-grandson of the great Prophet Isiah Shembe, the founder of the church and from whom the Shembe people derive their name. The research was able to establish that indeed, there are some health benefits to adhering to Shembe’s teachings and those benefits are not limited to health but also the social life and general communal wellbeing. Teachings like abstinence from smoking, drinking, and pre-marital sex were at the centre of this particular point. However, issues aroused around things like the type of diet Shembe encourages as from his writings, he was quite vague and it is thus open to interpretation. What can be recommended therefore is that further field studies be conducted on Shembe’s teachings, the type of diet the astute Shembe follower adheres to and how that may have an effect on their health, lifestyle, and general wellbeing. A desktop study was very limited in that regard. The Shembe community although fragmented and divided is a very large one, it is estimated to be 3 million strong. The collective force of 3 million people working towards the same goal would be overwhelming if it could be harnessed. Isiah Shembe gave AmaNazaretha the correct blueprint for uplifting a community and it is that blue print that AmaNazaretha should turn to. The modern world, while it offers a lot of challenges for the Shembe community, in the midst of those challenges it also offers a lot of opportunity. The Shembe community should be very capable of mobilizing their collective power to build their own educational and financial institutions and others that will cater to the needs of AmaNazaretha and move them closer towards the vision Isiah Shembe had for AmaNazaretha which is a community that is blueprintining with its own value system education, health and economic infrastructure with the state only providing a supporting role. As Isiah Shembe writes and says “wonke AmaNazaretha makabe munye njengebumba likasimende” meaning let all AmamNazaretha unite and let their unity be as strong as cement. Ultimately, for AmaNazaretha to uplift themselves, they need to go back to the teachings of the founder and use them to uplift themselves.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.