Visiting TRSH, we were impressed by its rituals. But not less impressive are its business activities.
by Massimo Introvigne and Rosita Šorytė
Article 3 of 4. Read article 1 and article 2.
Many of the devotees of The Revelation Spiritual Home (TRSH) we met once attended Christian churches, before following their leader, IMboni Dr. Samuel Radebe, in a journey back to African indigenous Spirituality.
The spirituality IMboni advocates for and lives by is one that he says is the authentic spirituality of the African people before the colonial missionary invasion. It is a spirituality that understands and recognizes the role of the Izithunywa (spiritual guides) and ancestors in the Africans’ interacting with the Creator God UMfihlakalo.
African indigenous Spirituality stresses that at the top of the spiritual pyramid is the Creator, followed by Izithunywa, and thereafter by IMboni, who guides the nation based on the spiritual revelations he receives from the Creator through the Izithunywa. IMboni teaches that the spiritual dimension is heavily involved in the operation of the physical dimension, hence the need to have an in-depth understanding of our spirit if we want to be active in spiritual matters.
This spirituality, IMboni teaches, has three pillars. The first is that the Creator God, UMfihlakalo, who is at the top of the spiritual pyramid, does not speak directly to humans but at the second level of the spiritual pyramid, he manifests himself only to high-level spiritual guides, i.e., the Izithunywa. At the third level of the spiritual pyramid, there is IMboni, who evidently has the intermediary role of being a messenger and spiritual guide for the people.
It is important to state that not all ancestors are good, nor are they all bad. Being under the guidance of ancestors, who will more often than not speak with their voice through an individual, is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. We saw a woman shaking and speaking with the voice of her deceased grandmother, but were told the ancestral spirit had no hostile intentions. A discernment is needed, and is performed by those with special spiritual gifts such as IMboni. Well-intentioned ancestors may thus be embraced and pacified, while relations with ancestors who led a bad life and continue to disturb their descendants from the spiritual world may be severed.
The interaction between our world and the spiritual world is the center of TRSH’s African indigenous Spirituality. Most of our problems come from ancestors, although others can derive from malevolent human beings who use witchcraft. IMboni believes that the word “witch” has been abused by the colonizers to slander legitimate and benevolent practitioners of African spirituality. However, malevolent witchcraft also exists, and we were shown for example a video on how an attack against the Marshalltown TRSH home by its opponents through witchcraft was detected and stopped.
The Sunday service at TRSH is mostly devoted to teaching and reporting about the progress of the movement in South Africa and internationally, although music also plays an important role. Even more impressive are the Tuesday healing services, where a variety of IIntsebenzo (rituals) are performed. These rituals have been revealed to IMboni and are specific to TRSH. Many of them use sanctified water, which symbolizes life and protection in African spirituality, and izibane, the spiritual lamps of different colors that appeared to IMboni at the Vaal River, in the golden lampstand vision that led to the establishment of TRSH.
The seven colors of the izibane are important, as they represent different Izithunywa (spiritual guides). The baby blue lamps represent the presiding Izithunywa. The red lamp represents the Izithunywa of war; the yellow represents the spirit guide of balance and harmony. The green lamp represents greener pastures; it also represents the female Izithunywa in TRSH. The white lamp represents the Izithunywa of light and Izithunywa of the individual.
During the Tuesday services, IMboni walks with garments spiritually revealed to him and of spiritual significance, including some featuring leopard skin, which also appears on his ceremonial throne as a symbol of power and lineage. The devotees are organized on lines waiting for a short contact with him and a blessing with water or the izibane. Some have in their hands symbolic small wooden swords. Women carry their children in their arms, whom IMboni always blesses and befriends. Some carry pictures or copies of ID documents of relatives in need. When IMboni comes, some devotees fall on the ground or start shaking or speaking with voices not their own. These are manifestations from the spirit world, which need discernment.
The spiritual rituals seem to transport us into a millennia-old indigenous world. Yet, a few blocks from its Marshalltown main place of worship, TRSH shows what at first sight appears as an entirely different face. These are the offices of the Trillion Cart Holdings, a conglomerate founded by IMboni that now oversees some seventy different businesses. Here, visitors mostly come in jacket and tie and are greeted by professional-looking secretaries. The walls are decorated with media articles depicting IMboni as a visionary businessperson and entrepreneur, although most of them mention he is at the same time a spiritual leader. Significantly, both the president, Thembi Tulwana, and the CEO, Namhla Dabula, of Trillion Cart are women.
Yet, the first impression may be deceptive. We are told that TRSH walks on two legs, the spiritual Revelation teachings and the business activities whose aim is to empower the devotees to take care of their own lives. Some work in the Trillion Cart companies; others learn how to start their own small business, no mean achievement for women and men often coming from the poorest neighborhoods of South Africa.
At the beginning of the Sunday services, videos chronicle the progress of TRSH and the founding of new churches, but also the results of the different business enterprises. Clearly, devotees do not see the two realms as separated.
The companies under the umbrella of Trillion Cart go from clothing and cosmetics (Ubuntu) to gyms (Black Rhino), restaurants, health supplements, advise on investments, and even racing pigeon farming, a personal passion of IMboni. Anecdotally, after I first heard of IMboni I made some research about him and found him criticized as a “cult leader” by Chinese who knew precious nothing about his spirituality but were upset that he had beaten them at auctions for some of the world’s best racing pigeons, which normally end up in China.
Not all of the TRSH ancillary activities are for profit. A Dr S.B. Radebe Foundation is a charity distributing food, food vouchers, and blankets to the needy, granting scholarships to worthy but poor students, and establishing libraries to encourage children in under-developed settlements to read. There is a Trillion Cart Football Club that has trained soccer players who went on to become professionals, and non-competitive Health Walks are organized in different South African cities. In a previous article of this series I mentioned the noteworthy work of African Hidden Voices, which researches the history of African spirituality. There are magazines and publishing houses, and one small book presenting the story of IMboni to children once topped South Africa’s bestseller list. Another important institution created by IMboni is the Inkululeko Yesizwe Association (IYA), an interreligious dialogue forum that gathers organizations representing more than ten million devotees.
During his interreligious activities, IMboni met the Unification Church/Family Federation founded by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon and led by his widow Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon. He became an active participant and regional leader of the Universal Peace Federation, the peace-building NGO also founded by Reverend and Mrs. Moon. To his credit, when in 2022 the Unification Church became the victim of a slander campaign in Japan after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was killed by the son of a female member, who accused the church of having financially ruined his mother, IMboni publicly comforted and encouraged the Japanese Family Federation members. As we will see in the next article of this series, he had experienced himself the discrimination and slander that often target minority spiritual organizations.