Vodacom and the Shembe church have entered into a “mutually beneficial” agreement that will see the church distribute the company’s products and services, they announced on Wednesday.
Neither the mobile telecommunications operator nor the church, also known as the Nazareth Baptist Church, revealed the value of the deal or how it would benefit both parties.
Shembe Family Trust representative, Landile Shembe,, said he had met the leaders of both church factions – Vela and Mduduzi Shembe – on separate occasions. Both had approved of the Vodacom deal, despite a previous one having failed.
Church elders and other family members, including Inkosi Sizwe Shembe, were present at the announcement during a briefing at Vodacom’s offices in Umhlanga.
“I went through a difficult time trying to get all the factions to work together, but because the family is the unifying structure, we were able to put our differences aside and work together. The church might be divided, but the family remains intact. The deal will benefit both the family and church members,” Landile Shembe said.
The leaders of the two factions were not present. They had been involved in a lengthy high court battle over the successor to the church’s leader, Inkosi Vimbeni Shembe.
Shembe died in 2011. At his funeral, it was announced that he had appointed Vela Shembe of the Thembezinhle temple as his successor. However, a few minutes later, Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo, who is the chief of the area where Vimbeni was laid to rest, announced that Vimbeni had told him that he had chosen Mduduzi Shembe of the Ebuleni temple as his successor.
The matter ended up in the Durban High Court, where the authenticity of the signature on a letter in which Vimbeni named his successor was disputed. In October 2016, the court ruled in favour of Vela Shembe.
The new deal comes nine years after a failed deal between Shembe and Vodacom. That deal saw Vodacom distribute starter packs bearing Shembe logos.
The deal failed when the court battle and faction feuds began, Landile Shembe said. They began negotiating the current deal with Vodacom about five years ago.
Vodacom representative, George Mendes, would only say that one of the church’s main functions would be to distribute Vodacom products and services.
“Of course those benefits will then flow through to church members. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” he said.
They were busy finalising the deal and how it would be operated.
Landile Shembe told reporters that the church had 6,7 million members, of which about 2,4 million were Vodacom subscribers.
National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, who has strong ties to the Shembe family, was a guest at the press briefing.
She said that despite the court battles, the family was able to secure the deal.
“We’ve heard that it hasn’t been easy, but today we’re here to witness something good,” she said.