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Journal for the Study of Religion

On-line version ISSN 2413-3027
Print version ISSN 1011-7601

J. Study Relig. vol.35 n.2 Pretoria  2022 



Moral Economy in the Nazareth Baptist Church, South Africa



Magnus Echtler

Senior Researcher, Centre for Advanced Studies 'Multiple Secularities', University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.




Isaiah Shembe founded the Nazareth Baptist Church (NBC) in 1910, and this new institution distinguished itself from mission Christianity not least through the markedly different moral economy. With the church headquarters at the outskirts of Durban (South Africa), the church catered to black Africans, dispossessed of their land and forced into the capitalist labor system. To them, Shembe preached a Protestant work ethic, while at the same time condemning involvement in city life and striving to acquire land and attain economic autonomy for his congregations. With female adherents running away from fathers and husbands, he started out as a 'thief of women', but soon gave religious support to the patriarchal authorities of chiefs, who granted the church land in native reserves in turn. Prohibiting members from joining labor unions, the church connected cities and mines with rural homelands and contributed to the stabilization of the migrant labor system. In addition, Shembe preached moral ethnicity, and hence partook in the creation of Zulu nationalism.
The ambiguous moral economy of the NBC persisted during apartheid capitalism and post-apartheid neoliberalism. My essay focuses on preaching and the heterotopic character of the large gatherings of the NBC, and I will also connect church morals with the wider Zulu traditionalist milieu and, given the preoccupation of classic moral economy with riots and revolutions, conclude with some observations on the 2021 unrests in South Africa.

Keywords: African Indigenous Churches, ethnicity, morality, Shembe, unrest, Zulu



Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions (Marx 1844).



'Bread riots' was one of the labels stuck onto the unrest that shook South Africa in July 2021, employed by left leaning intellectuals who wanted to supply the rioters with a progressive trajectory. Their interpretation called to mind the warnings of Edward Thompson (1971:76-77) regarding the 'spasmodic view' of the historical agency of common people that requires nothing more than ' hunger' to explain riots and plunder. In the South African case, hunger as motivation failed to explain why among all poor South Africans, all of whom suffered from Covid-19 restrictions, failed service delivery or frustrated desire to participate in consumer culture, only those in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng rioted. Investigating the map of unrests, I just had to notice that the area of riots coincided with the territory of the NBC, the focus of my research from 2007 to 2017, which in turn coincided with those areas of the South African migrant labor system where Zulu ethnicity emerged (Marks 1985:428; Policylab 2021; Cabrita 2014:xix).

When Isaiah Shembe (c. 1870-1935) founded the NBC in 1910, all pre-colonial polities had long lost their sovereignty, and the South African Union had robbed its African subjects of most of their land and forced them to work in the capitalist economy. The moral economy of church teachings related to this socio-economic context. While teaching a Protestant work ethic, Shembe regarded urban workplaces as part of the polluting and corrupting worldly sphere that church members should avoid. He envisioned economic autarchy for his congregation, and to achieve this, he acquired land for the church. His vision failed, but his quest for land led him in the native reserves where he forged alliances with African chiefs. While the church started out catering to the marginalized people of the urban fringes, its membership became increasingly rural, and Shembe turned from a challenger to a guardian of patriarchal authority. Part of this process was the church's focus on Zulu history and the creation of its own brand of moral ethnicity. This turned the church into a stronghold of reactionary ethnic nationalism, though church teachings also contain visions of socio-economic upheaval, a 'slumbering radicalism' that might, given the right circumstances, 'break into fire once more', as Thompson (1991a:33) argued for British Nonconformist Protestantism. Here, I have analyzed the ethnic moral economy of the NBC, and suggest in conclusion that the crowds that burned KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in 2021, might have subscribed to comparable anti-liberal moral orientations, not just being mobs doing the bidding of Jacob Zuma, or bands of criminals taking the opportunity to plunder.

For Thompson (1971:78-79), crowd action pursues clear goals, based on ' the moral economy of the poor' , a shared ' view of social norms and obligations' pertaining to 'economic functions' of different groups within the community. Revisiting the concept, Didier Fassin (2009:1257) defines the term 'moral economy' as 'the production, distribution, circulation, and use of moral sentiments, emotions and values, and norms and obligations in social space' . This redefinition opened the concepts to all social spheres and all members of society, and was criticized in turn for abandoning Thompson's focus on class and capital and thus undermining its critical leverage (Palomera & Vetta 2016:414). Somewhat opposed to Fassin's economy of morality is the use of moral economy to designate the subset of morality that is concerned with economy. Hence, when Webb Keane (2021:16 of 24) addresses religion and moral economy, he discusses various religious moralities, which called adherents to exit or transform, to reinterpret, or reconcile with economic systems. With the focus on religion, Keane acknowledges Thompson's concept as an influential critique of classic economics, but notes its secular character and argues that it restricts morality in economy to traditional societies, which it considers as static and consensual (Keane 2021:5-6, 8 of 24). However, it is precisely Thompson's restricted and context specific definition of 'moral economy' that makes the concept analytically useful in the case which I discuss here.

As a historian, Thompson was wary of intercultural comparisons and criticized anthropology for its lack of attention to social conflicts and historical processes (cf. Edelman 2012:52-53). When discussing various adaptations of his concept, Thompson suggests that only in resistance to free-market economy did custom become 'self-conscious as a "moral economy" [and, as such, was not] backward-looking[, but] on the contrary...continuously regenerating itself as anti-capitalist critique' (Thompson 1991b:339-340).

This restricted definition of 'moral economy' as opposed to 'political economy' , of customary paternalism transformed in the face of the free-market ideology of capitalism, applies precisely to the context in which the NBC shaped its moral stance. The church's formation followed the Bambatha rebellion of 1906, which opposed the poll tax that forced black Africans into paid labor, and which can be linked to the emergence of Zulu ethnicity (Mahoney 2012). Hence, I place the religious moral economy of the NBC, discussed in the first section, in the context of the formation of the ethnic moral economy in the second section of the essay, drawing primarily on the work of John Lonsdale (1992, 1994; cf. also Edelman 2012:60-61). In the third section, I turn to the practical dissemination of morality. There I use distinctions, elaborated within moral anthropology, between Durkheimian and Weberian approaches, focusing either on moral order or moral choice, on deontological or virtue ethics (Fassin 2012:7; Lambek 2012:353), both featuring prominently in the preaching of the NBC.

In conclusion, I return to the 2021 riots in South Africa, connecting it to the second reason why I preach Thompson's moral economy in this essay. Thompson was an activist and correspondingly polemic in his argumentation (Edelman 2012:50-52). He was well aware how much the notion that a 'rioter might have been more "moral" than a disciple of Dr Adam Smith' angered proponents of free-market ideology, and he suggested to export 'experts in the promotion of riot [to bolster] community defences and the political influence of the working people' globally (Thompson 1991b:271, 302). This worked for post-apartheid South Africa, where the high number of protests seems to support Thompson's suggestion that rulers care for the poor only insofar as they fear that 'their rule may be endangered by riot' (Thompson 1991b:303; cf. Bekker 2021). However, the unrest of July 2021 differed from other protests not only in sheer size, but also in the iconic attacks on malls, the very materialization of the promises of neo-liberal market economy.

While South African media considered service delivery protests against a failing state as largely legitimate, virtually nobody granted moral agency to the looters carrying away freezers and flat-screen TVs. The neo-liberal economic system appeared naturalized to the degree that not even mass unemployment and extreme disparity in wealth seemed immoral enough to warrant mass action. Hence, the concept of moral economy is relevant for present-day South Africa because it aims to unmask the particular interests hiding behind the ' mystifying metaphor' of the market of political economy (Thompson 1991b:305).

This relevance motivates my use of the concept, but warrants a disclaimer. I do not argue that the moral economy of the NBC drove the unrest, nor that Nazarites participated. At least, church members should not have participated, as my discussion of its morals will show. I rather argue that the moral economy of the church related to the moral economy of Zulu ethnicity, both of which originated in the context of migrant labor between the Witwa-tersrand mines and Natal and Zululand at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. As a social anthropologist, I am interested to use the restricted concept of moral economy to connect the NBC to its socio-cultural context, rather than to distinguish the church's religious morality from other secular moralities pertaining to the economic system. Finally, I argue that Zulu ethnicity was a factor in the 2021 unrest, and suggest that this angle might prove fruitful for an investigation of the moral economy behind its crowd action.


Moral Economy

After Shembe had founded the NBC in 1910, he built its headquarters at Inanda, close to Durban, about five years later (Cabrita 2014:93-97; Roberts 1936:30). He had witnessed colonial prosecution firsthand as a small child, when the Hlubi polity was destroyed for alleged insurrection in 1873, and Shembe's father, councilor to Chief Langalibalele, took his family to Harrismith in the Orange Free State. As a tenant of a white farmer, Shembe established a polygamous household, before the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) displaced him again. After the war, he left his wives and traveled as a preacher and healer, first associated to the Wesleyan and then the African Baptist Church (Papini 1999). According to church lore, he founded his own church after other churches rejected his converts because of their African clothing (Echtler 2020a: 140-142).

In 1906, the colonial military had suppressed the so-called Bambatha Rebellion, a violent uprising against the introduction of a poll tax. In 1910, the colony of Natal became part of the Union of South Africa, an independent dominion within the British Empire, which formed the completion of imperial control over formerly independent African and Boer polities. This state expropriated black Africans from their land and forced them into paid labor. In the migrant labor system, the capitalist mode of production of the Witwatersrand mines exploited the domestic modes of the native reserves, which ensured the reproduction of the labor force without costs to the capitalists (Meillassoux 1981). This political economy formed the backdrop of the emergence of the NBC and of the moral economy developed by the Nazarites.

When founding his church, Shembe moved at the fringes of the new socio-economic order. His first followers were marginalized people, uprooted from the remnants of the precolonial society in the reserves, and still striving to attain a secure position in the capitalist system. The first of the Nazarite hymns, created even before the foundation of the church's headquarters, captures the feeling of displacement of Shembe and the early church members. They praise the Lord who 'even today...routed our enemies' who ridiculed them when they were ' wandering in the wilderness [and] sleeping in the forests' (Muller 2010:51). Like most of the hymns of the Nazarite hymnbook, first printed in 1940, the morning prayer included therein dates to the 1920s. In it, the prayer leader tells the congregation not only to worship God throughout the day, but also extolls them to work: 'You must never be idle. It is a sin to be lazy. A lazy person is like a dog which survives by begging food from human beings. At the end of this prayer, take your hoe and till, that is how you will live' (Muller 2010:9). In the prayer, God is requested for 'a spirit of diligence that we may plough, weed, and watch over that which we have cultivated' because it is man's fate to 'eat only after sweating' (Muller 2010:7, 11). While the morning prayer represented work in subsistence agriculture, Shembe's 'counsel on work' addresses the issue of paid labor2. He admonished his followers to work with care and a humble heart: 'If you are a lazy worker, Jehovah will never bless your work and your earnings because you will have stolen your employer's money' (Papini & Hexham 2002:3). Unless the employers were satisfied, the money would not stay with the employees, nor would the bread bought with it nourish their children (Papini & Hexham 2002:1).

Work as predicament that has to be suffered through and indeed accepted, rested on the theology of sin and redemption, as spelled out in the Sabbath liturgy. According to that narration, the current situation was God's punishment for the sins of the forefathers, namely the Zulu kings, with only Shembe, the 'Opener of the way' (uMqaliwendlela), as he is called in church, offering salvation and the promise to turn 'slavery into a kingdom' (Muller 2010:37). Shembe proved rather successful in building a this-worldly dominion. By the time of his death in 1935, the NBC owned 27 plots of land, providing 'maintenance for the afflicted' (Papini 1999:281; Roberts 1936:63-65, 71-74). Next to working on church land, Nazarites engaged in paid labor or pursued crafts like sewing, weaving of mats, or leatherworking. In part, these enterprises satisfied the demand created by the church itself, especially in producing white church surplices and dancing attires (Roberts 1936:61, 91-93).

Shembe discouraged female church members to work for whites, but encouraged selling products to them (Cabrita 2012:441). In practical terms, then, the land acquired and the activities promoted by him, aimed to better the marginal economic position of church members. The morals he taught, provided spiritual backup for the capitalist system by promoting a Protestant work ethic and praising exploitation as the way to salvation. However, work entailed suffering, and economic success did not signify salvation as for the Calvinists in Weber's interpretation or the Pentecostal adherents of the prosperity gospel (Keane 2021:12 of 24). Still, in legitimizing inequality, Shembe's theodicy worked as sociodicy (Bourdieu 1991:14). This ideological function was implemented in the stance against the workers' organization, as Shembe excommunicated all members of the Industrial and Commercials Workers Union (ICU) from the NBC in the late 1920s (Heuser 2003:100; Cabrita 2012:441). With the institution built and the morals he taught, Shembe bridged the divide, or ameliorated the tension of the labor system between rural homeland and urban workplace. Rather programmatically, one praise name was Bombela, the Pondoland train (uMbombela isitimela samaMpondo), with Bombela designating a bus or train that carried black migrants between home and work.

Still, church teachings expressed real suffering in explicit terms. Since 1910, the South African state celebrated their decisive victory of the Boers over the Zulu at iNcome/Blood River in 1836 with a public holiday, as the divine intervention that established white rule. In contrast, Nazarites remembered that day as the one when God gave them

over to our enemies [and they were] killed off [so that] corpses were too many even for the beasts of the veld. [A] small nation like the Boers broke us up, [they grew] wealthy on our land [and continued to] mock us by commemorating this day. Our daughters are the slaves of the Boers [who use them] as cleaners of all their filth, [while the men had no firewood or water, and had to wash] with the tears of our wives and daughters, who weep in their misery and suffering, from which we are unable to relieve them (Papini & Hexham 2002:56, 58).

This was the complete destruction of the patriarchal order of precolonial homesteads or chiefdoms, where men controlled the productive and reproductive capabilities of women, whose chores included the collection of fuel and water (Guy 1987:22). Hence the Nazarite elders, having 'lost our dignity and authority, even with our sons', pleaded with God to 'gather us up from our sorrow' and to return them to 'the contentment of our ancestors of old' (Papini & Hexham 2002:54-55).

While Shembe's new kingdom promised spiritual salvation, it nevertheless challenged the socio-economic order of this world. As violent means had failed, Shembe preached going 'to war with money', and advised his followers to leave ' employment by the whites, so that you may work for me, and I shall support your wives and daughters' (Hexham & Oosthuizen 1996:159-160). According to this moral economy, the church leader would act as redis-tributive center and shield the congregation from the capitalist system. The economic exit strategy did not succeed, however, and in 1971, Prophetess Mama Dainah Zama scolded the church leadership for having failed to 'liberate us from the hands of the whites [and] migrant labour' (Hexham & Oosthuizen 2001:3). Consequently, Shembe's successors, Johannes and Amos Shembe, had to mitigate the hardships of the economic system. According to church traditions, these leaders' miraculous interventions brought estranged workers back from the city to their homeland and family, organized work permits, saved workers' lives in Johannesburg mines and the Durban harbor and, even after causing an accident, provided the faithful with 'a liberated job with good remuneration' (Hexham & Oosthuizen 2001:256, 157-159, 324).


Ethnic Morality

Prophetess Mama Dainah Zama claimed to be a messenger from God, but the critique cited above came from Shaka, the founder of the Zulu kingdom, whom she met in a vision, along with Zulu kings Cetshwayo, Solomon, and Shembe. Hence, this vision leads us to the entanglements of the Nazarite moral economy with ethnic identity. Zulu ethnicity, the idea of a unified cultural identity of the various descent groups, clans, and chiefdoms of Zululand and Natal emerged among migrant laborers at Witwatersrand mines after the gold rush of 1886, according to Michael Mahoney (2012). In the independent Zulu kingdom, Zulu identity had been restricted to the royal clan, whose core allies had been labelled as Ntungwa, in contrast to other, more marginal groups which had been conquered later and were considered as inferior (Mahoney 2012:36-37; Wright 2008:36). Groups like the Hlubi, Qwabe, or Qadi fled the Zulu expansion. Some found protection in the colony of Natal and fought for the British in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. The former enemies united as Zulu only when confronted with other groups in the context of migrant labor, while a moral economy of Zulu ethnicity emerged only when earlier moral economies of African chiefdoms and paternalistic colonialism failed (Mahoney 2012:10-11, 118-119).

In contrast to the model of Leroy Vail (1989:10-16), according to which groups of intellectuals created ethnicity in reaction to the destruction of the precolonial society, and implemented it within the colonial system of indirect rule, Mahoney argued that the young men working at the mines created a Zulu ethnicity from below (Mahoney 2012:150-151). While striving to better their standing, they simultaneously recreated a patriarchal hierarchy within the newly emerging larger Zulu community. The new ethnic moral economy formed the basis for the Poll Tax Rebellion of 1906, the last large-scale attempt to resist the imposition of colonial and capitalist order with violent means. In this reading, ethnicity would not be a false consciousness of the working class, nor a pre-colonial remnant, but rather 'the sternest measure of moral agency' (Lonsdale 1994:140).

Divergent interpretations of ethnicity notwithstanding, the brutal suppression of the rebellion firmly established white rule over and the economic exploitation of Africans. While Zulu king Cetshwayo had been imagined as leader of the rebellion and been punished for his alleged participation, the position of his son Solomon was much more ambiguous. To the extent that he was supported and utilized by the state administration, ' his significance as a focus of resistance both to white rule in general and to the subordinate chiefs, who had largely by this time come to be seen as "the government boys", was undermined' (Marks 1986:34). In the 1920s then, African leaders like John Langalibalele Dube and Petros Lamula marshalled an ethnic moral economy for political mobilization, showing that King Solomon wielded 'very real powers' insofar as he managed to 'ideally [represent] the unity of the community, its father and redistributor' (Marks 1986:110-111, cf. Cope 1990; La Hausse de Lalouvière 2000:74-90). Zulu aggregation was continuously challenged by particularizing fissions, but at least in 1925, a crowd of 60,000 'enthusiastically' acknowledged Solomon as their king (Cope 1990:433).

In new permutations, Zulu ethnicity circumscribing a moral community, formed the ideological core of Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha movement of the 1970s and the violent nationalism of the Inkatha Freedom Party towards the end of apartheid (Maré & Hamilton 1987:57, 219). In the face of neo-liberal deprivations in post-apartheid South Africa, labor migrants again re-created ' a moral order that is rooted in rural homesteads' , hoping to ensure ' fruition, good fortune, and social reproduction' through adherence to the strict rules of patriarchal hierarchy, delineated in ethnic terms (Hickel 2015:203). With this rough outline of some transformations of Zulu moral ethnicity in place, let us now turn to the ways in which the NBC participated in its construction.

According to Shembe's account, both his grandfather and father had been councilors of the Hlubi chiefs, while his mother, prominent in church oral traditions because of his miraculous birth, was from the Hlubi chiefly lineage (Papini 1999:261, 263). Shembe was born in Natal before the colonial state had prosecuted the Hlubi for rebellion, which forced his family to flee to the Free State where they became tenants of a white farmer. Hence, his family history closely intersected with the breakdown of the moral economies of African precolonial societies and paternalistic colonialism, which, according to Mahoney (2012:118), led to the emergence of a moral economy linked to wider Zulu identity - this is precisely what Shembe claimed for his patrilineal forebears. While being retainers of the Hlubi chiefs, they were 'from the Ntungwa tribe with the praise name Nhlanzi' , and hence ' of pure Zulu breed' (Hexham & Oosthuizen 1996:1). The corresponding church tradition closely intertwines a theology of sin and redemption with Zulu history. According to the story, God warned Shembe's great-grandfather, who was still living in Zululand at the time, that he would raise a violent king to build his nation so ' that all Brown people be united in the Zulu kingdom' . He should flee to avoid the king's rage because 'from your progeny I shall raise prophets who will save my brown nation...which I have established and chosen' (Hexham & Oosthuizen 1996:2-3). When God destroyed the Zulu kingdom as punishment for its sinful ways, Shembe's lineage provided the redeemers.

Theologically, the way taught by Shembe would assumably save all nations, so the NBC could be considered to carry a Pan-African or universal message (Sithole 2016:38, 41). However, Shembe founded the NBC in the time of the emergence of Zulu ethnicity, and his mission fields coincided with the areas where migrants started to identify as Zulu. To identify as church members, as Nazarites, could unite city and countryside, women and men, young and old, as well as members of antagonistic chiefdoms, just like the new expanded Zulu identity (Mahoney 2012:150). Partly, the two overlapped, and the Sabbath liturgy addressed the congregation as either Nazarites or children of the Zulu kings (Muller 2010:25, 29, 35; cf. Echtler 2020b:89-91). Shembe tried but failed to convert King Solomon, probably because his church threatened to replace the Zulu royalty as unifying institution, and his scathing condemnation of the sins of the forefathers earned him the praise as the fly that pesters the kings like a sore (Gunner & Gwala 1991:69; Cabrita 2009). However, the relation could also be complementary, as Shembe's charisma could strengthen traditional authority, delegitimized by its cooperation with the colonial state. After all, Shembe's lineage possessed the 'horn to anoint the Chiefs', and while he had been considered a threat to patriarchal control early in his ministry, he turned into its defender during the 1920s (Hexham & Oosthuizen 1996:235, cf. Echtler 2016:240-246).

Shembe demanded respect for his divinely sanctioned authority, and generally preached respect for patriarchal hierarchy and specifically for chiefs. The new and biblically legitimized Nazarite morality was highly compatible with the moral order of homesteads and chiefdoms just reframed as moral ethnicity, as chiefs made use of the new institution to strengthen their position (cf. Cabrita 2014:270-274). Chiefs provided the NBC with land in the native reserves that grew into Nazarite strongholds, and consequently the chiefs became powerful in the church as well.

Shembe married his daughter to King Solomon in 1926, and by the time of his death in 1935, powerful chiefs supported him, including the sons of the Qwabe chief who had been a prominent leader in the Poll Tax Rebellion (Dube 1936:98; Sundkler 1961:313). Early in the reign of Shembe's son and successor, Johannes Galilee (1936-1977), a chief visited the church to learn how to teach his subjects respect (ukuhlonipa). At the time of his death there where chiefs who claimed to have the final say in church affairs within their territories (Sundkler 1961:111; Oosthuizen 1981:25). Buthelezi was closely involved in church affairs and declared that it held a 'special place in my heart' (Buthelezi 2011), and under the leadership of Amos (1977-1994), the NBC was largely Inkatha affiliated (Cabrita 2014:276). Still, the church could not stay outside the violent conflict between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the United Democratic Front, and arguably Londa Shembe, leader of the minority faction, was killed in 1989 because he tried to play 'both sides of the fence' (Eveleth 1995). In post-apartheid times, politicians courted the church and hailed it as forerunner of the African renaissance. In the succession conflict of 2011, in the majority faction of the NBC, one of the contestants based his claim on the authority of chiefs in the church, and he strengthened his position by cooperating with Zulu King Zwelithini. This is the context for my analysis of the preaching of Nazarite moral economy.


Preaching Morals

The most important practice for the dissemination of morals in the NBC is the Sabbath preaching. Every week, local congregations gather at their openair temple and, in the yearly cycle of church assemblies, potentially the whole church gathers in front of its Lord (inkosi), the church leader. The preaching I analyze here took place on April 9, 2011 at eBuhleni, the headquarters of the majority branch of the church. It was an extraordinary event, as it was the first Sabbath service after the funeral of Vimbeni Shembe, the late leader, where two successors had staked their claims. Hence, the preachers used the opportunity to legitimize their candidate, and they did so by preaching Nazarite moral economy.

After the death of the church's founder (Isaiah Shembe) in 1935, his son, Johannes Galilee took over the leadership, and he established the notion that he had inherited his father's charisma in the form of the spiritual Shem-be, a singular entity with messianic qualities that hallmarked the legitimate Lord of the Nazarites. However, the church split after the death of Johannes in 1977, as the vast majority of church members followed Amos, a half-brother of Johannes, rather than Londa, Johannes' son. The break-away followed the logic of succession politics of polygamous homesteads: As son of a different wife, Amos established his own homestead at eBuhleni, while Lon-da remained in the NBC's original homestead of eKuphakameni. The succession conflict of 2011 replayed this church split, and staged it in terms of a conflict between bureaucratic and traditional authority, the prime options for the routinization of charisma, according to Max Weber (1978:246). At Vim-beni's funeral, the church's lawyer presented a deed of nomination that declared Vela Shembe, a son of Johannes, the new leader of the NBC. However, before the lawyer could speak, the chief of the Qadi, on whose land eBuhleni was located, had already announced that Mduduzi Shembe, son of Vimbeni and grandson of Amos, was the new Lord of the Nazarites. State courts decided in favor of Vela, but the overwhelming majority of Nazarites acknowledged Mduduzi (Echtler 2020c).

April 9, 2011 was the first Sabbath after the funeral, and the service provided the stage to promote the new leader. As Mduduzi's followers controlled eBuhleni, they used this central church site to legitimize his leadership. Sociologically speaking, they backed the traditional authority of the chief against the bureaucratic authority of the lawyer by preaching the patriarchal morality of the church. Sabbath preaching itself produces gendered hierarchy in practice, as it is restricted to male church officials, while women are only allowed to speak in front of the congregation on a few special occasions. On April 9, Evangelist (umvangeli) Mkhwanazi preached in the morning, and Minister (umfundisi) Gcwensa in the afternoon service. Mkhwanazi (2011) began by addressing Mduduzi as 'Father, Lord of lords Lightning [Baba, iNkosi yamakhosi Nyaziyezulu]'. Both 'father' and 'lord', 'king', and ' chief' are titles of the church leader, and the appellation ' Lord of lords' refers to the Bible and his messianic status, as well as to the fact that he is the head of the chiefs (amakhosi) in the NBC, who sit right in front of the congregation. Mkhwanazi also introduced Mduduzi's church name 'Lightning (uNyaziyezulu)' because the church's variant of Zulu/Nguni respectful behavior (ukuhlonipha) prohibits the use of the leader's personal name.

Gwensa (2011) used the same address in the afternoon, adding: 'I thank you, Lord of lords, for letting my eyes see you as you were born for the fifth time', referring to the central theological construct of hereditary charisma, to Shembe in spirit, present in Isaiah, Johannes, Amos, Vimbeni, and now in Mduduzi. At the end of the afternoon service, Mduduzi entered the temple and blessed the congregation, and the assembled Nazarites greeted him, on their knees, by shouting, 'You are holy! Amen! [Uyingcwele! Amen!]' This ritual acknowledgement of the leader established Mduduzi as the Lord of Ebuhleni in practice. Before the ritual closure, however, both church officials had been preaching Nazarite morality for an hour each.

In the morning service, Mkhwanazi preached morality as obedience to the laws of the church. Starting with the rules for the Sabbath, he emphasized that they have to be followed strictly. For example, he told the congregation that they had to enter the temple ' before the beginning of the service otherwise you will not be marked present in heaven'. From the Sabbath he turned to the cutting of hair, prohibited to Nazarites, noting that in former times they could 'be easily identified by our hair', but today, when 'we are free.. .ministers, evangelists and preachers cut their hair, I won't even mention men in general'. From the hair of men, he turned to the bodies of women: ' Today our wives paint their eye with mascara as if they are still looking for a man.The problem with us is that we like to come and be bossy in church while failing to maintain our homes. In your home women wear trousers but here you are a big evangelist, big minister. Shame on you! '

Mkhwanazi concluded that a ' woman who says "It is democracy! We are now equal" belongs to hell. It is us men who must correct the church.. .We know the law of God, and it has not changed'. To legitimize the patriarchal moral order, he referred to the Bible, citing Deuteronomy 22:5, Jeremiah 4:30, and 1 Timothy 2:9-12, and also to the 'Reminder of the Statute' teachings of Johannes Shembe that formed part of his initiative to codify church rules in the 1960s (Papini & Hexham 2002:xxxiii). Throughout, he emphasized the moral responsibility of men for the wives and children of their homes, and especially of church officials for the laity: ' Let us not lie to ourselves, leaders of this congregation, we are the ones going to hell if we do not teach the ways of this Church' (Mkhwanazi 2011). This moral shortcoming of men had been the explicit reason for Johannes' 'Reminder of the Statute' that charged church officials 'with ensuring that the rules are followed' because, when 'maidens and wives do wrong before them, the men fail to reprimand them' (Papini & Hexham 2002:125, 143).

According to Mkhwanazi, communal responsibility extends to one's kin, be they alive or dead. He advised the congregation that 'if you doubt Shembe, your relatives will be in trouble. If you sin, your people are expelled from heaven; you make them afflict you a lot because you are the one who sinned' (Mkhwanazi 2011). At the very end of his sermon, he thanked his ' fathers who met with the heavenly dwellers and agreed that I should stand here' (Mkhwanazi 2011). The acts of the living affect the dead, who can affect the living in turn, and to stand in eBuhleni and acknowledge Mduduzi as the new Lord, ensured salvation for himself and his kin.

Nazarite morality aims at salvation, but otherwise it shows a considerate overlap with the moral order 'rooted in the rural homesteads' of KwaZulu-Natal (Hickel 2015:203). According to Jason Hickel, the 'rigorous system of social differentiation through hierarchies [was considered] crucial to fruition, good fortune, and social reproduction' (Hickel 2015:203). The violation of the rules of respect (ukuhlonipha) leads to misfortune, and the reproduction of good order requires ' the proper performance of ritual [so that] ancestors are pleased and protect their descendants' (Hickel 2015:86). According to Mkhwanazi, the sins of the living endanger the salvation of the ancestors, who afflict the living with misfortune in turn, and his example for sinful behavior was turning his back on the church leader after giving an offering, a behavior considered disrespectful when leaving the Zulu king (Mkhwanazi 2011; Krige 1950:239). In church, women wearing trousers or demanding democratic equality go to hell. In a Durban township in 2007, a woman was mistreated and her house burned because she showed disrespect by wearing trousers, and 'democracy dissolves the re/productive differences essential to social life [and hence] appears to bring about a kind of social death' (Hickel 2015:130, 133). Hickel argues that neo-liberal deprivations have led to a revival of homestead morality in post-apartheid South Africa, and in one of his examples, leaders of the Mkhize clan employed a Nazarite minister to deal with their ancestors (Hickel 2015:183-184).

While Mkhwanazi preached obedience to rules, Minister Gcwensa emphasized moral choices in the afternoon sermon. Citing the Bible - Joshua 24:15 - he told the congregation 'that each and every one of us takes a decision today. Like Joshua, I am saying, as for me and my house, we will remain at eBuhleni' (Gcwensa 2011). While Gcwensa spoke for his house, he insisted that the choice was personal: 'You must choose God yourself. You must not refer to God as the God of your father, but he must be your God' (Gcwensa 2011). Gcwensa explicated the moral choice the congregation had to take with a lengthy story about three followers of Shembe who preached the word of God, but failed to turn people from their sinful ways, and who went looking for Satan, as the one responsible, not realizing that Satan was within them. This story about satanic agents, subverting Shembe's way to salvation, dates back to the 1930s (Hexham & Oosthuizen 2001:79-80), but Gcwensa's rendition differed in two regards. On the one hand, he stressed that it would be wrong to think that the enemies within 'have died by now', as they could be 'witnessed this last week', leaving little doubt that considered the supporters of Vela Shembe doing the devil's work by leading Nazarites away from Mduduzi (Gcwensa 2011). On the other hand, his Nazarites looking for Satan found him, or rather, they found a 'shiny box.. .full of what we all desire' and they killed each other over its contents (Gcwensa 2011). ' Money is the cause of all this. Jesus was betrayed for money. Judas is still among us' , Gcwensa told the congregation and then asked, 'Why would you prefer to leave eBuhleni for money? [and then warned them to] be careful that when we search for Satan, he is not already within us underneath our white [Church] gowns' (Gcwensa 2011).

While Mkhwanazi had spelled out the rules of the moral order, Gcwensa stressed the importance of choice, thus adding the Weberian to the Durkheimian perspective on morals, namely that 'the practice of ethics entails not simply following one's obligations or values, but choosing or judging between alternative means and ends and cultivating the capacity to do so wisely' (Lambek 2012:350). He framed the moral choice in economic terms: To reject Satan means to reject the allure of money, but that is hard because 'we never get enough of money, do we?' (Gcwensa 2011). Gcwensa's equation of money with death and damnation resembles the South American ideas of devil's contracts in capitalist labor, which provide the worker with unproductive money that 'kills whatever it buys' (Taussig 1977:149). That was the moral teaching of Gcwensa's story: 'The shiny box was left alone. It remained while they died' (Gcwensa 2011). According to the interpretation of Michel Taussig (1977:139, 149), peasants regard capitalist relations 'neither as natural nor as good since they necessitate the agency of the devil' , and their stories voice a Marxian critique of commodity fetishism, of the primacy of exchange value over use value. Moral economy in Thompson's sense, rejects the political economy of Adam Smith's liberal market, and replaces it with a paternalistic order. The paternalistic order is the one that Mkhwanazi had preached, in which Shembe, the Lord of the Nazarites, legitimizes the authority of homestead heads and chiefs.

This Nazarite moral economy is highly compatible with the Zulu homestead morality which, according to Hickel (2015:87, 216), should neither be regarded as false consciousness nor as pursuing rational self-interest because it rests on a non-Western concept of personhood, ' ontologically co-extensive with kinship and homestead hierarchy'. He was not alone while opposing Zulu/Nguni/African moralities, worldviews, and ontologies with Western, liberal, and democratic ones. Jeff Guy (2013:4) suggests that the introduction of capitalism at the end of the 19th century changed the way in which Africans 'perceived and organized their worlds.from one in which the objective in life was people, to a world in which the objective in life is things'. Carolyn Hamilton (1998:213) argues that the 'supporters of zulu-ist politics [of late apartheid times preferred] authoritarianism of the Shakan legacy [over] the freedoms of liberal democratic politics [because of the] desire and need for social order'. Finally, Hylton White (2011:108-109) argues that everyday interactions in contemporary rural Zululand homesteads draw upon two distinct models of social life: A culturalist one, emphasizing kinship solidarity, and a constructivist one, focusing on calculating individuals.

On April 9, 2011, Mkhwanazi and Gcwensa preached patriarchal authority and moral economy to support the chief s choice of Mduduzi and to criticize the followers of Vela as only being after money. In doing so, they could draw on established traditions, as Nazarites have been engaged in moral discourses and ritual practices, taking care of ancestors, upholding patriarchal order, and ensuring a communal wellbeing since the 1920s. The vast majority of the Nazarites of eBuhleni followed their lead and acknowledged Mduduzi as the new head of their church. State courts, however, followed the deed of nomination and consistently decided in favor of Vela. Lacking support of bureaucratic authority, Mduduzi worked on his alliance with the traditional authorities. In 2013, he added a visit to the residence of the Zulu king, Zwelithini kaBekhuzlu to the yearly cycle of church assemblies. In 2016, the king invited Mduduzi to the 200-years celebration of the Zulu kingdom, and the Nazarites started the proceedings with a Sabbath service. In January 2018, three months after the Durban High Court has declared Vela to be the Titular Head, Zwelithini visited the church's congregation on the new holy mountain, iKhenana, which Mduduzi had established two years earlier. There, in front of some 50,000 Nazarites, Zwelithini declared 'Lightning [Mduduzi] is the leader of the Nazarites at eBuhleni', and added 'Lightning is your father in spirit; I, as the King of the Zulu nation, am your father in flesh' (Zwelithini 2017).

In the following sermon, Gcwensa told two stories. According to the first, a young man declared his faith in Shembe while imprisoned. Shortly thereafter, he was released on good behavior and he quickly found a job in Durban. In the job, he used a company car. He wanted to own such a car, but could not afford it, and told his wish to Shembe. The next Monday the white boss gave him the car, while he did not even have to ask. Success and even a shiny car come by the grace of God, transmitted via Mduduzi Shembe. In the second story, a girl was sick because an ancestor afflicted her. When Shembe intervened, the forebear explained that he fought for Zulu King Shaka, killed a chief without his permission, and then died in the bush. His descendants had to perform the rituals to bring him home, and to make him a Nazarite because only that would ensure his salvation and stop him afflicting the girl. However, and that was the point of the story, it would not work because he had disrespected Shaka, and it was necessary to beg forgiveness from Shaka's successor (Gcwensa 2017). In this rendition of Nazarite Zulu moral economy, Shembe is regarded as the way to economic success, health, and salvation, but at times only if combined with respect for traditional authority.



On September 28, 2021, thousands of Nazarites of eBuhleni protested in central Durban against the Constitutional Court ruling, rejecting Mduduzi's appeal. According to spokesperson Nkosinathi Makhanya, the court never considered the views of the church members, who were free to choose their religion, and hence could not ' accept the court appointing someone to represent us' (Berea Mail 2021). The march brought traffic to a standstill and broke Covid regulations, but was well-disciplined and peaceful otherwise. Hence, the Nazarite crowd action stood in marked contrast to the violence and looting of the crowds in the 'unrest' of July 2021. Also designated as 'riots' or 'insurrection', the crowd actions sparked by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma have either been interpreted as politically orchestrated or poverty driven, or both. According to the socialist reading of Trevor Ngwane (2021: 312), it was 'the working class! In motion, albeit in a disorderly fashion'. He argued that the Radical Economic Transformation faction within the ANC initiated the unrest, but was ' soon overtaken by the mass action' driven by the ' desperation and anger' that capitalism forced the working class into (Ngwane 2021:316, 318). The looters, however, did not represent a 'new revolutionary vanguard' , but they still needed 'to build solidarity and caring and sharing, and to treat each other with respect [within a] working-class movement' (Ngwane 2021:316, 320).

If Zuma, albeit corrupt, managed to 'speak to the workers' frustration, anger and desire for a different future ' (Ngwane 2021:318), why did this relationship incite mass action only in Zulu areas? Given that ' Zulu ethnic mobilization...occupies pride of place in Zuma's political arsenal' (Ngwane 2021:313), why was he able to affect people well beyond the hostels of the migrant laborers, the classic loci of the IFP influence? In his first statement, President Cyril Ramaphosa (2022) identified 'ethnic mobilisation' as one factor in the uprising, and the new Zulu king Misuzulu (Republic of South Africa 2021) felt obliged to appeal to the 'Zulu nation' to stop participating in 'the destruction of South Africa'. I argue, however, that the ethnic factor, connected with a moral economy 'as anti-capitalistic critique' (Thompson 1991b:340), placed the action of the crowds well beyond any straightforward political orchestration. In times of social struggle, people busy with 'revolutionizing themselves and things, [do so by] anxiously [conjuring] up the spirits of the past to their service' (Marx 1852:5).

When forced into the capitalistic mode of production at the end of the 19th century, the inhabitants of KwaZulu-Natal had turned to the Zulu past to confront the new in the ' time-honored disguise' of Zulu ethnicity. At the beginning of the 21st century, Zuma not only represented working-class hopes for a better future within the ANC. At a time when Covid lockdowns had driven the crisis of socio-economic reproduction for the poor to unprecedented heights, Zuma, who had been scandalized for misusing public funding to rebuild his polygamous homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal, could stand for an (imagined) past 'in which young men and women were more respectful of gendered and generational hierarchies' (Hunter 2014:239). Like Shembe, the Zulu king, or Buthelezi, Zuma is one of the '"heroes", paternal proxies, agents of power' (Spivak 1993:74) of Zulu ethnicity, and these heroes can even employ predatory authority, as long as they redistribute the spoils within a moral economy of corruption (Olivier de Sardan 1999:41-43).

As the Nazarites protested against a court deciding, ordering them that a ' wrong person' should represent them, many South Africans in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal felt somehow represented by Zuma, and his imprisonment affected them enough to become a crowd in action, or to be enticed by the social media campaigns of interested political actors. Certainly, Ngwane is right in pointing out that the crowds lacked the solidarity and respect, the moral economy of a worker's movement. However, there are Zulu moral economies out there, not only the religious variety in the NBC, and the spatial structure suggests that those might have contributed to crowd action in July 2021.



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1 I thank the members of NBC for letting me partake in their lives, the German research foundation (DFG) for funding, and the reviewers for their insightful comments on this essay.
2 This text, attributed to Shembe, formed part of the 'Grave book', a booklet of church teachings that circulated among Nazarites from the 1960s onward (cf. Papini & Hexham 2002:xxi-xxiii, 2).

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