YET another woman has come forward with allegations of systematic beating and virginity testing of children at a KwaZulu-Natal Christian mission station, with an increasing number of callers to the Witness confirming that such activities took place.
A 21-year-old woman, who was born at the mission and went to school there, described in detail how she regularly witnessed the beating of pupils. She is one of dozens of people who have responded following an article in the Witness in which a woman – Erika Joubert – spoke of her experiences at the mission and her escape in 1995.
The woman, who asked not to be named because she still has family members living at the mission, related how the mission leader would regularly arrive at the school to shout at the pupils. “He would tell us, forcefully and charismatically, that we were from the devil. It was limb-freezing stuff,” she said in a telephonic interview with the Witness.
She described how children were held down by their hands and feet if they screamed during beatings in the hall, while fellow pupils were forced to show no emotion.
She also confirmed the existence of the “Upper Room” described by other former mission members. Although she was never personally beaten in the Upper Room – “I was too scared and too good, I never did anything wrong” – she attended what she termed “child inquisitions” held there. “The beatings were not restricted to the Upper Room, and I was personally beaten outside of it,” she said.
The woman said beatings were usually connected to relationships between girls and boys.
“You could be beaten for writing a letter to a boy, or holding his hand or phoning him.”
Describing the beatings, the woman said they were performed by school board members, co-workers at the mission and some teachers. “They were done with a plastic pipe, like they use in plumbing.
“The beatings would take place in the classrooms, in assembly, during choir practices, sports practice and after school in the hall. They were done publicly. Only once I was taken out of the classroom to get a hiding.”
The woman recalled “countless” times where a child would be made to stand in front of the school in the hall to be beaten. “If the child screamed and did not lie still, they would get two people to hold them down by their hands and feet,” she said.
“I remember when my brother’s best friend, a Zulu guy, was expelled. He was a great friend of mine. They found out he was having a relationship with a girl who did not attend our school. When they announced that he was expelled, I started crying. The head girl saw me crying, yanked me out of line and took me to the loo, where she told me to pull myself together or I’d be in serious trouble.”
The woman said she once watched her six-year-old sister being humiliated in front of the school. “I was breaking up inside, but I just sat there.” She added that the beatings were normal to her because “as a 15-year-old girl I saw nothing strange in it, simply because I had seen it so often”.
“I was standing in the supermarket the other day, reading Erika’s story. I read the first paragraph and I felt myself shaking. I was in a cold sweat. I felt such fury and helplessness, knowing that I was subjected to something so abnormal.
“Yet somehow, they made you believe it was good for you Reading the article has helped me to realise how totally abnormal everything was at the mission. But when you’re in there, you rationalise it as God’s will.”
The woman also related how children were made to show a signed letter to authorities every week to prove they had seen a counsellor, to whom they were expected to confess their sins. “If we didn’t show the signed letter, we were beaten.” Everything had to be discussed with counsellors. “We were incapable of making our own decisions.”
She said after leaving the mission, she found herself unable to make simple decisions. “It was because everything had to be okayed. If you had any thoughts or ideas which were not those of the mission, you prayed for forgiveness and didn’t tell anyone.”
The woman stressed that there were some “good people” among the teachers, boarding staff and the school committee.
Currently living outside of KZN, the woman is one of a number of people who feel deeply concerned for relatives still living at the mission. In the meantime, she is rebuilding her life and working and studying through Unisa.