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An open letter to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Chairman of the Zulu party Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)from 1975 to 2019, and South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs from 1994 to 2004

Dear Prince Buthelezi 

with great respect and interest I have read your statement about the events around the mission KwaSizabantu. Your frank words were pleasing to me. Unlike other politicians, you profess your friendship for the mission and its leader Erlo Stegen.

I was touched humanly by the way you reported the death of five of your children and the death of your wife, and how you found consolation also through conversations with Erlo Stegen. 

Dear Prince Buthlezi, I would like to introduce myself and tell you the reason for my open letter to you.

My name is Jens Nissen, I have been a journalist since 1969, I worked as a politics editor for a major German daily newspaper and as a reporter for a news magazine that is well known in Germany, „Der Spiegel“. Today I am a freelancer for several well-known publications in the country.

I am writing this letter to you primarily because of a few sentences of your statement, which I have been reading and listening to again and again for three decades from many different people in a similar form. They are statements of sympathy for the mission and its leaders and of admiration for the social and economic achievements made on the mission as well as the Christian messages.

Dear Prince Buthelezi, I can very well understand your sympathy for the mission and its leader. You, as an important politician of your country, as a world-renowned leader of an important party in South Africa, have been by far the most prominent visitor and friend of the head of KSB, Erlo Stegen, at the KwaSizabantu Mission. Question: How do you behave towards very prominent people in society? Answer: Very polite, courteous, you show your nicest face. So: KwaSizabantu has always shown the most beautiful face to the great Mangosuthu Buthelezi, showered him with reverence, granted him the privileges he was entitled to. You write in your statute, and it is the core of your defense of the mission: Never in all these years of attending services at KwaSizabantu have I had any cause to question the biblical teachings, the motives or the ministry of the Mission.

No, you did not. Because you could only see the image of the mission that was presented to you.

Please let me, dear Prince Buthelezi, explain to you this:  You and I are from a different stable. 

In my journalistic lives, from Willy Brandt to Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel, I have experienced five Chancellors of the Federal Republic of Germany at close quarters – sometimes, when they were not yet in this position, even very close – and on these occasions I was always able to observe the people around me who wanted to bask in the glory of these celebrities. There was always this embarrassing spectacle in which everyone pretended the more they wanted to win the favor of the celebrities for a moment in order to have the feeling for the blink of an eye that they were important once in their lives, although they were not. This is the environment from which you, dear Prince Buthelezi, come. Everyone wanted your favor – KwaSizabantu too. You are the prominent politician in whose light one likes to shine, to whom wherever he appears, a beautiful picture is shown, to whose questions often the most one-sided, targeted and beautifully picturesque answers are given. To whom this picture is given, the sight of which will be the basis of his future evaluation. 

I am the non-prominent journalist who, unnoticed by anyone, mingles with the people and recognizes a completely different image. To whose questions completely different, complex answers are given and for whom a completely different, much more realistic picture emerges. 

And now I will tell you how I got to know KwaSizabantu. I got to know it very well. Because I am not a prominent person, but I am a collector of mosaic stones. Simply a journalist.

During my first of a total of ten stays of several weeks on the mission, it was in May 1991, I experienced how a privileged, very important person is lifted up there. I was a nobody. But amazingly Erlo Stegenhimself came to to the house of his brother Friedel, where my wife and I had a room in. They only gave a room to special guests there.  Obviously I was a special guest. The Head of the Mission looked for me – and took his time for a long, very nice conversation. In the evening of the same day, as I said, on the second day of my stay, he came again and asked me: “How long will it take you to pack your suitcase”? That same evening we went with him and his wife Key to his apartment on the beach of Umhlali, my wife and I had a whole apartment for us with a beautiful view of the Indian Ocean. The whole next day he had time for us, we were at the beach, had long conversations on his terrace, we laughed a lot. He was kind and extremely friendly. But, he provided me with 

mosaic piece number 1: The blacks, he claimed, have a much smaller brain than the whites, so they are not capable of their intellectual achievements. He made jokes about Winnie Mandela, and Nelson Mandela, who was still in prison at the time, did not have good hair. He blamed him as a criminal and a communist.

Mosaic stone number 2I collected in the evening of the same day. I learned that there were people on the mission who waited for days for a brief moment to talk to Erlo Stegen, including tourists from Germany like me. He made them wait for days in obvious agony while he enjoyed himself on the beach.

 Mosaic stone number 3 fell into my lap, so to speak, the next evening: Her name was Heike, she was just over twenty, and she looked terribly sad after the evening sermon in the small hall in the middle of the mission station. I asked her what was going on and she answered me with tears in her eyes that the sermon was completely destroying her. She could never fulfill the conditions that were shouted down from the pulpit. I, who only three years earlier had come to the liberating faith in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus, tried to comfort her by saying that there were no conditions for salvation through Jesus except by faith. 

Mr Buthelezi, did you know that you have a much smaller brain than Erlo Stegen? Of course it doesn’t behave like that – but Erlo Stegen wouldn’t have dared to tell you what he really thinks, he didn’t show you how racist he was. But he did blabber to me – because I wanted to know who was sitting in front of me and a journalist can bring a conversation in a direction where opinions are suddenly transported quite openly.  Two days, three mosaic pieces.  

And it went on like that. The mosaic stones became more and more numerous. Everyone on the mission treated me, the journalist from Germany, almost as they treated Mangosuthu Buthelezi – I was a VIP! This kindness, this sacrifice, this humility, these fantastic economic and social achievements, in this environment, whenever I was there, I had heaven on earth. I too could have said: “In all the years that I attended services in KwaSizabantu, I never had reason to question the biblical teachings, the motives or the ministry of mission”.  But I had met Heike and more and more other Germans who had strange stories to tell that did not fit together with this heaven on earth. Dear Prince Buthelezi, did you – metaphorically speaking – meet Heike and others and hear their stories? No, you didn’t – you couldn’t look at two sides of the coin like the unknown journalist – you could only look at one side.

Dear Prince Buthelezi, I don’t want to list all the mosaic pieces I have collected in the eight years of my acquaintance with KwaSizabantu, there are too many for that. I have published some of them on the website  But this much I can say: They largely agree with the accusations that are now once again being made against KwaSizabantu. I have heard so many similar sounding stories about the same terrible experiences with the mission in South Africa, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany from so many people that the circumstantial  evidence against the KwaSizabantu is overwhelming.

I am now writing you a sentence that is familiar to most Germans, which I simply have to write to you despite all understanding for your position towards KwaSizabantu as a German. You know the history of my home country. And in my home country there are still people today who only want to see one side of the coin of a part of our history. The history of the Third Reich. Despite National Socialism, despite the murder of seven million Jews, despite the death of 50 million people in Europe in the Second World War caused by Germany, there are people who above all WANT to see only one side of the coin, but prefer not to see the other side. Their argument for the fact that in Hitler’s thousand-year Reich so many things were good after all, is repeatedly stated: “He built the Autobahns”. It is the psychology of repression, of not wanting to know the other side of a coin, which leads to pushing facts aside better than to considering their truth content possible. It is the lack of will to differentiate that makes it more comfortable to live in this world.  

Yes, dear Mangosuthu Buthelezi, dear brother in the Lord, KwaSizabantu has also built highways, so to speak. Not everything is bad there. There are and were wonderful people there. They achieve great things, especially economically, (although the foundations for economic progress until the end of the 1990s were financed mainly by Europeans), but there is and always has been a backdrop behind the theater, which istotally different from what is played in the front.

Finally, I would like to briefly comment on some of your comments.

Allegations being made against KwaSizabantu Mission in Kranskop, KwaZulu Natal, have come as a devastating shock. 

Why a shock? You have known such accusations for many years and have never done anything to clear them up, because friendship for the mission was more important to you than the truth. Don’t pretend to be shocked now about something you may have known for decades, but have always successfully suppressed.

And never have I heard of a single concern being raised that what is taught at KwaSizabantu deviates from biblical Christian teachings. 

This is not true. You know the statement of the Evangelical Alliance on the allegations also about abuse in KwaSizabantu from the year 2000. It is in there. At that time, you made a statement about it, which was reported by Natal Witness.

What I found, was a place free of the racial segregation and oppression of apartheid. People of all races lived, worked, ate, learned and worshipped together. 

Apparently they never walked around the mission station with their eyes open: did you not see the shacks where some black workers had to live there – I would not have let my dog live in such shacks.

I cannot help but think that if there were any signs of cultism, this would have been flagged by someone, at some point, in the last 50 years. 

Dear Mr. Buthelezi, so many people have noticed these signs, so much has been written, broadcast and spoken about them. In which world do you live when you say something like this now?

Instead, it is entirely self-sustaining, funding itself through intensive farming activities. In this way, KwaSizabantu provides a livelihood for more than a thousand people. 

What do you call livelihood? Hunger wages? Only a little pocket money? Have you ever asked anyone there how much money they get for their work? Even your number is exaggerated – say hundreds and not thousands…

Accordingly, those staying at the Mission do not pay for housing, water or electricity. 

True. But these people have only the bare necessities for living, their work is hardly paid. See above.

I am not saying that we must look the other way. And indeed, no one is looking the other way, for KwaSizabantu is now the subject of intense investigations. 

No, dear Prince Butheletzi, you did not look away – you did not look! Isn’t that why you have a share of the blame for all this misery?

We must support the women who have spoken to News24, giving gut-wrenching testimonies of sexual and physical abuse. We pray that the full truth will be revealed 

Sorry, this is political language – without content. So how do you want to support these women – praying? Is that all?

I do not say this lightly. My wife and I sent most of our grandchildren to Domino Servite School, to be educated at KwaSizabantu. The school has a reputation for producing excellent academic results and, understandably, for being strict. It was precisely for these reasons that we chose it. Two of our grandchildren were in fact expelled for contravening the well-known rules. 

This sounds like a recommendation to try a school in North Korea – they are also strict and have a reputation for excellent academic results.

And before anyone asks; no, the IFP does not receive funding from the Mission. 

That may be true for today. But the KwaSizabantu mission has donated large sums of money to the IFP, Erlo Stegen himself has confirmed this to me. Especially in the period of transition from apartheid to the Republic of South Africa. The Mission was inspired to do everything possible to prevent the ANC from coming to power.

My family and I have received spiritual support, and advice on growing our own vegetable crop, for the Reverend Stegen and his team are successful farmers with much experience. 

It’s nice to see vegetables growing in your area – but this has nothing to do with the allegations that have been proven for at least 20 years and which you apparently still refuse to accept.

The truth will come to light.

I agree with you here. Unfortunately, it took journalists to make sure that the official work on this is now underway. You or KSB  have done nothing to achieve this.

My last remark. Already twenty years ago you looked away rather than looking at the misery in KwaSizabantu. I quote Natal Witness:

„Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said in Cape Town on Thursday that virginity testing and the beating of children are accepted practices of Zulu tradition. Buthelezi was responding to recent allegations that virginity testing and child-beating are taking place at a Christian mission station in KwaZulu-Natal. The IFP leader is known to be a regular visitor to the mission and a friend of its leaders. He recently attended the wedding of a leader’s daughter, where he made a speech.

Doorstopped by The Natal Witness after a meeting with British Minister for Africa Peter Hain, Buthelezi said he is not aware of virginity testing or beatings going on at the mission. However, he said both are part of Zulu tradition. “I was beaten myself as a child,” he said. “I have a few marks to show for it.”

Buthelezi confirmed that he has had a “very good relationship” with the leader of the mission “for a very long time”. “But I have never been informed of those kind of things going on,” he said.

So, beating and virginity-testing are „accepted practices“  and „traditional“. 

My last question to you: Is it also tradition to give the truth a wide berth and do nothing to seek it?

With kind regards from Germany

Jens Nissen