Furs for Life

Shembe follower wearing synthetic leopard fur
Shembe follower wearing synthetic leopard fur

Twice a year members of the ever-growing Shembe church congregate in Ebuhhleni for a month-long meeting to give thanks to the prophet Isaiah Shembe. The area is considered a holy land, a place of purity and blessings, and Shembe followers come from all over South Africa to climb the mountain at Ebuhhleni. It is a time of spiritual introspection, but also celebration, and the ‘meeting’ is closed with a series of dances with people dressed in traditional outfits.

The Shembe Church has come under the spotlight in recent years for a number of environmental issues, including deforestation for their outdoor church meetings and the use of leopard skins for their traditional outfits, but this year saw a positive change with a large number of followers wearing the synthetic furs produced as part of Panthera’s Furs For Life campaign. With the Shembe church estimated to have a membership of close to five million people, and more than a thousand leopard skins being worn or sold at every Shembe gathering, the use of furs in their ceremonies has had a devastating impact on the leopard population. Panthera, and organisation that protects the world’s endangered wild cats, has partnered with leaders of the Shembe Church to encourage followers to buy fake skins, which last much longer than real skins, and are a fraction of the cost.

Well done to Tristan Dickerson, the programme’s coordinator, and Greg Lomas and Colwyn Thomas for their tireless efforts in raising awareness around this critical issue. It really is very promising to see things starting to change!

Photograph courtesy of Greg Lomas.

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