• Shembe worshipers partake in annual pilgrimage to sacred site in South Africa
  • Durban, South Africa, Jan 4 (efe-epa).- Thousands of members of the Zulu Nazareth Baptist Church, each clad in white shawls and walking barefoot, gathered on the sacred mount Nhlangakazi in the verdant countryside of western South Africa on Thursday to pray and dance during their annual pilgrimage, as documented by an epa photographer.

    Nazareth Baptist worshipers believe the church's late founder Isaiah Shembe (c.1865-1935) was a messenger of God after he claimed to have been approached by the Holy Spirit at the top of Mt. Nhlangakazi in the Kwa Zulu Natal region of the county over 100 years ago.

    Shembe's followers, who have combined Zulu and Christian traditions in their worship, revere him as an African Messiah.

    Every year, roughly 20,000 Shembe adherents come together to make the 50-kilometer (31-mile) pilgrimage to Mt. Nhlangakazi, where they gather for prayer, dancing and festivities over the course seven days.

    Church members split up into groups of adult men, young men, married women and unmarried women, as evident in images shot by the epa correspondent.

    Wearing shoes is not permitted in the main worship areas at any time during the pilgrimage.

    Basic teachings of the Shembe Church include a heavy emphasis on the Ten Commandments as well as abstention from premarital sex, smoking and eating pork.

    The influence of Christianity, promoted in South Africa by both Dutch and British settlers during the years of colonialism, succeeded many of the traditional ancestor-based beliefs found in the region.

    Today, there are around 4 million Shembe followers.