South Africa

More details of abuse and negligence emerge at KwaSizabantu Mission

More details of abuse and negligence emerge at KwaSizabantu Mission

Allegations of sexual abuse and negligence at the controversial KwaSizabantu Christian Mission again surfaced on Tuesday, as three witnesses spoke at public hearings.

The hearings, being held by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL), began at the beginning of October after an investigation into allegations of fraud, rape, assault and money laundering levelled against the church.

The mission has vehemently dismissed the allegations as a plot by a breakaway group to destabilise the organisation so that they can seize financial control. KwaSizabantu owns water bottling plant aQuelle and runs a successful multimillion-rand farming project.

They have conducted an independent investigation into the allegations after claiming the CRL commission was biased against them.

Mlangeni Gasela, 38, who resides in the neighbouring community of KwaMaphumulo alleged that negligence had been going on unreported for years.

“They would kick people out of the mission and leave them to fend for themselves. No money, place to stay or even arrange somewhere for them to go. They were able to control people. Everything the leaders at the mission said was correct in that it was 'an instruction from God'. No-one would question it,” he said.

He said people would be kicked off the mission's grounds on the slightest issue deemed sinful beyond forgiveness by the leaders.

A second witness, who was dialled in via telephone from Cape Town, alleged that both her and her niece had been sexually abused during their time at KwaSizabantu.

The women, who cannot be identified because of the allegations of rape, said her first impression of the mission was wonderful.

“When I first visited in the 1980s I held the place in a very high esteem. It was a wonderful place for God. I went to visit the mission for two weeks and everyone was very loving, kind and very embracing. When you get there you are told you can stay there for free, you can eat there for free, as long as you obey their rules,” she said.

She alleged that during her time at the mission she had been sexually abused by one of the leaders, but was made to believe it was okay.

“I lived a terrible life. I come from a life of abuse. I was abused as a child and as an adult. I never knew love. I gave it my all at the mission because that's where I had found the love of God. Until one day I made one mistake.”

Her mistake? Watching the American war movie Pearl Harbor on DVD.

“I had some friends who lived at the mission for many years and they once asked me to take care of their place and watch over their daughter. They had a DVD on their shelf called Pearl Harbor. One night their daughter said we should watch it and we did. I didn't see anything wrong by watching the DVD.”

She said anything considered a sin at the mission required them to immediately confess to one of the counsellors or leaders.

“If you sin at the mission you had to run immediately to your counsellor and confess your sin. If you didn't they would call you in and tell you someone has confessed on your behalf, which was worse and you would be kicked out.”

She said she was called in by Erlo Stegen, the founding brother of the mission, and was taken to the house where she had watched the DVD.

“While driving there he asked me if there was anything I wanted to confess about. I couldn't think of anything because I didn't feel that watching that movie was a sin.” 

She said she was confronted about watching the movie and told that she had for 12 years been playing with God and that he would never forgive her.

“They said God will never accept me again. Up until this day I am afraid that God will never accept me. The mission is a very harsh place and when they chase you away, when you are in that process of going out, no-one is allowed to speak to you,” she said.

She said her niece had also been accepted into the mission and alleged that she, too, had been raped during her stay there.

“I just want to let you know that this is the truth. I believe every person that has spoken out regarding the abuse, the sexual abuse, the physical abuse and the mental abuse — the mental abuse is the worse. They will shower you with gifts, they will show you the best. They have these amazing rondavels but they will never show you what it was like in the 80s, when 300 woman were sleeping in one rondavel,” she said.

The final witness alleged that her grandfather — a reverend of the church — was supposedly duped into changing their home address to that of KwaSizabantu in his will.

“When he died my parents were called and told that my grandfather changed his will and made our family home KwaSizabantu Mission. We were told that we no longer have a home and that our home is now a mission.” 

She said that, to date, their family did not have the title deeds to their family home.

“My parents, because they are uneducated, they were just shown the letter stating that the house is no longer a family home and they believed that. We all grew up in that home with my grandmother and grandfather taking care of us. Our plea is that we are given back our home, our title deeds, so that we can live in peace,” she said.

The commission will reconvene on Wednesday.