Shembe, who died last week, led the Thembezinhle faction of the five million-strong Nazareth Baptist Church, popularly known as the Shembe church.

“It was the wish of the leader not to announce the new leader on the day of the funeral. This gives the church enough time to mourn,” Shembe’s spokesperson Nkululeko Mthethwa said in an interview with eNCA.

Shembe’s funeral proceedings took place at his home in uMthwalume on KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast on Sunday. His body was expected to be taken around the temple for the last time and then to his final resting place.

It is believed that he died of natural causes.

Mthethwa told the TV station: “It was a natural death, he was complaining about the legs and it was a matter of hours and then he was dead.”

READ MORE: Church leader Vela Shembe has died

He praised Shembe, saying he was a “brilliant leader”.

“There will be no split in Thembezinhle going forward,” said Mthethwa about any possible leadership disputes.

In a message of condolences to Shembe’s family and church devotees, the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) called for unity.

“That unity is what the Shembe church needs particularly at this stage for it to continue to provide spiritual leadership and guidance to millions of its followers in our nation and beyond South Africa’s borders,” Sanco spokesperson Jabu Mahlangu said last week.

Shembe’s death last Thursday came less than a month after the Pietermaritzburg High Court reserved judgment on a leadership contest that has gripped the church since 2011.

After former leader Vimbeni Shembe died in March 2011, his son, Mduduzi, and Vela, who was Vimbeni’s cousin, both claimed to be the rightful heirs.

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At Vimbeni’s funeral in April 2011, two separate announcements were made regarding who would succeed him.

In one, his lawyer Zwelabantu Buthelezi said that, according to the deed of nomination that Vimbeni had prepared before his death, Vela should be the successor.However, Vimbeni’s childhood friend, Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo, announced that Vimbeni’s son Mduduzi was the rightful heir.

They could not settle the dispute internally, so they approached the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban. In October 2016, the court ruled in favour of Vela.

However, Mduduzi was granted leave to appeal.

Judgment was reserved in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on 23 October.

– News24 Wire