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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 00:26 GMT
In pictures: South African pilgrims

Women kneel in prayer

An estimated one million followers of South Africa's Nazareth Baptist Church are coming to the end of their annual pilgrimage.

A young pilgrim builds his temporary house on the hillside

They have spent the past two weeks on their holy mountain of Nhlongakazi, north of Durban.

Pilgrims dressed in white flock to Kwazulu-Natal in January

The church, also known as Shembe, has an estimated 4 million followers, or amaNazarites, mostly Zulu-speakers.

Pilgrims in white smocks hold traditional Zulu bows too

The church was founded in 1910 by Isaiah Shembe, who died in 1935. Since his death, the church has split into several factions.

boys sit on rugs watching the prayers

The pilgrims walk barefoot for three days, covering 60km and sleeping in the open. They build fires along the way, sing and burn litter to purify their surroundings.

The procession of the Ark of the Covenant

Evangelists in green cloaks and reverends in collared, long-sleeved gowns accompany their "Ark of the Covenant" on its journey to the mountain top.

A man holding a Zulu fighting stick

Devotees or preachers wear white gowns and headdresses made of animal skins. They carry traditional Zulu fighting sticks called izimboko.

Women gather around a mound of flowers

Shembe women worship separately from men. They gather in a group and lay flowers on the hillside to remember the souls of the departed.

Women bow their heads in prayer

During the holy month of January, Shembe's followers do not eat chicken or bread. They worship, dance and make offerings. The men do not shave.

A boy looks after his suitcase as he prays

Pilgrims believe if they reach the mountain, God will ease their pain, enable them to find employment and keep them safe in the year ahead. Pictures and text by Alice Lander.





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