18/09/2017 16:20 SAST | Updated 18/09/2017 16:20 SAST

5 Things You Need To Know About The Mighty Zion Christian Church

Can you believe it has 16 million members?

Members of the Zion Christian Church make an annual pilgrimage to Moriah in Limpopo in celebration of Easter.
Sygma via Getty Images
Members of the Zion Christian Church make an annual pilgrimage to Moriah in Limpopo in celebration of Easter.

The Zion Christian Church (ZCC) is known to be one of the biggest and fastest-growing churches in Africa -- but some people were shocked to learn that the church boasts 16 million members.

The number was revealed in a statement issued by the church at the weekend -- in which it urged its members to boycott Tiso Blackstar newspapers, for various reasons.

So what is this religious giant and how did it get to have 16 million members? Here's five crucial facts about the church:

1. It was officially formed in 1924
According to SA History Online, the church was founded by Joseph Engenas Lekganyane.

He reportedly had a revelation from God in 1910 to start the church, and officially formed it in 1924. The church was initially based in Lekganyane's home village of Thabakgone, near Polokwane.

Engenas died in 1948. His death led to a dispute between his two sons, Edward and Joseph, about who should take over.

The main church is currently led by one of Engenas' grandsons, Bishop Barnabas E Ramarumo Lekganyane, while a splinter group is led by another grandson, Joseph (named after his grandfather and father) Lekganyane.

2. It is the largest African-initiated church in southern Africa
The church says it has 16 million members.

Its 926 members in 1925 became 2,000 by 1935 and 8,500 by 1940. In the next two years, the membership of the ZCC had trebled to 27,487 and the church had spread to Zimbabwe and Botswana.

By the time of Engenas' death, the church reportedly had 50,000 members.

According to the 1996 South African census, the church had 3.87 million members and by 2001, the number had grown to 4.97 million.

3. The church's headquarters are at Zion City Moria in Limpopo
Lekganyane purchased a farm about 50km east of Polokwane and later named it Moriah. This is now the headquarters and spiritual centre of the church, where, every Easter, the church hosts a pilgrimage. More than 1 million members attend this gathering.


Politicians such as President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and EFF leader Julius Malema have attended the pilgrimage in previous years.

4.On the church's uniform
ZCC members have different sets of uniforms according to age, gender or occasion. For church services on Sundays, men of all ages wear green suits, but women elders in the church wear green and yellow uniforms, and young women and girls wear blue uniforms. The women's choir uniform is also blue. The women's uniforms for both young and old are matched with green head wraps.

Brooks Kraft via Getty Images
Zion City Moria, Limpopo Province, South Africa.

All members wear a star badge in and outside of the church premises. In 1928, the badge was introduced for the purposes of identification.

5. The Mokhukhu organisation
The all-male Mokhukhu organisation was established by Enganyane's son, Edward.

Mokhukhu is said to play a similar role to that of kgoro ya banna (a meeting place for men) found among the Bapedi tribes. Within the church, this kgoro focuses mostly on communion, dancing, singing and praying.

When they dance Mokhukhu, members frequently leap into the air and then come down stamping their feet on the ground with their huge white boots, called manyanyatha, in order symbolically to subjugate evil. The leaps are believed to be symbolic of each member's desire to fly on the wings of faith -- wings that help the faithful remain buoyant even in adversity.
11 April 2004. South Africa, Limpopo, Polokwane. Zion Christian Church members perfoming a mkhukhu dance during their church service in Moria.