It is an October that no one who has ever been involved with “Mission KwaSizabantu” will forget. Because October 2020 is the month when finally something happens in the drama about the sect of Erlo Stegen in KwaZulu Natal. This is to owed to a team of former members of the Mission, who were able to convince South Africa’s largest English-language online news portal, News 24, to take on the disaster, which has been taking place at KSB for 50 years, but has been successfully swept under the carpetall the time. Now, after the extensive coverage of abuse in all its forms, of violent excesses, rape and embezzlement of huge sums of money, now that a million people in South Africa are aware of the incidents – now the state of South Africa can no longer look the other way. And it no longer looks away.
Here is a brief summary of the events of the last few days.
As a first step, South Africa’s Commission for the Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Groups (CRL) is now publicly addressing the massive accusations against the KwaSizabantu mission. The Human Rights Commission will follow. The state’s special unit for organized crime, corruption and economic crime, HAWKS, is investigating the fraud allegations.
The CRL Commission has meanwhile held several hearings, first in Durban, then in Johannesburg. Further hearings are to take place in Cape Town. Not only has the Commission received a flood of e-mails with personal reports of the most serious abuses of all kinds by KSB from all over South Africa, it has also listened to many witnesses and victims of the abuses on the mission; so far there are about 30 to 40 witnesses. Some of the testimonies of the victims were so disturbing that the reports of even hard-boiled professionals from radio and television stations in the country showed how much the descriptions got under their skin. Deutsche Welle broadcast a detailed report with the headline: “KwaSizabantu mission scandal rocks South Africa”. Many tears flow in the meetings of the commission, some of the witnesses have to interrupt their statements again and again because of crying fits.
Some witnesses who testified before the commission and some potential witnesses received strange emails in the days after and anonymous phone calls at night in which they were asked to remain silent.
The KwaSizabantu Mission, in a first public reaction, described the Commission’s investigations as “fatally flawed” and expressed concerns about the objectivity and transparency of the investigation. The Commission had already brought them to court and condemned them without a hearing.
After a hearing before the commission, the newspaper “The Sowetan” ran the headline: “Former pastor weeps as he tells of rape allegedly covered up at KwaSizabantu mission”. News 24 writes that the pastor has testified that the mission curses all who leave it. Characteristic of the mission is that KSB controls the minds and attitudes of its members.
KwaSizabantu published a 15-page paper after the first few days of the hearings, nine pages of which were written by KSB lawyer M. de Wet – the most important statement in it being that the Mission insisted that when the Commission visits, only its members and administrative staff have access to the Mission. No press, nobody else….
From the next meeting of the commission comes the WhatsApp of an observer: “The chairman adjourns the meeting on the grounds that the lawyer of KwaSizabantu is making strong accusations against him and they need to talk about it”.
At the hearing of the envoys of the KwaSizabantu Mission, they immediately leave the meeting after the Chairman of the Commission does not comply with KSB’s request to apologize to the Mission for comments he made to the media after previous meetings. However, the CRL Commission made it very clear that it would continue its investigation despite the departure of the KSB representatives. A delegation from the provincial government of KwaZulu Natal then made a brief visit to the Mission and asked its head to cooperate with the CRL Commission. We need to dig deeper to find out the truth, said Nonhlanhla Khoza, MEC for Social Development. Abuse could not be tolerated.
The Sunday Times reports: “KwaSizabantu mission accused of ruling with fear. Investigators reported rape and child abuse, but church refuses to investigate”.
After the KwaSizabantu mission had already claimed in statements that the initiators of the investigations against the mission, i.e. former members of KSB, were mainly interested in money and wanted to take over the mission, it is reported on Twitter that Stegen’s daughter Ruth Combrink claims that one of the alleged victims was forced to make false accusations against the mission. This allegation will be repeated at a meeting at the Mission on Sunday, October 18.
There was a visit by the press, radio and television to KwaSizabantu. For Michael Ngubane, one of the highest ranking members of the Mission, “a wonderful day”, as he says on television. Press workers comment sarcastically in a small circle: “No beatings, no rapes today – in fact, a wonderful day! The television stations report reluctantly and skeptically about the reception on KSB.
The German Bishop Martin Frische, who lives in Pretoria, testifies before the Commission in Johannesburg that he has 40 years of experience with the KwaSizabantu mission. In his opinion, KSB is a sect that has always refused to accept responsibility for what happened in its ranks. He asked: “How many rapes do we have to prove before there is an outcry from the government, from people, from the world; how many rapes? He was one of the co-initiators of the investigations in 2000, and Barney Mabaso, former branch manager of KSB, his son Smanga, and Dr Peet Botha are also testifying before the Commission.
The television station “Newsroom Africa” broadcasts almost four minutes in its evening news under the title “Shocking revelations continue to emerge from the hearings at the KwaSizabantu mission”. The reporter Sipha Kema, who follows the hearings, is visibly shocked by the terrible reports of the abused victims. Moderator Ayanda Nyathi, on another program, calls the events surrounding KSB “the biggest religious scandal in South Africa’s history.“ When he interviews Ruth Combrink on his show “AM News”, he only gets to hear the old, recurring statements from KSB – how beautiful everything is on KSB, how much good they do, etc. Now and then he has to intervene, like this: “You haven’t answered my question.” It does not help much, Caombrink rewinds her program. She explains that they are “shocked by the accusations” – and to find out the truth they have formed an independent commission to investigate the allegations. However, she also welcomed the fact that the CRL Commission is investigating the allegations – whose hearing KwaSizabantu had left shortly before under protest.
The next day, a headline in News 24 about the report of another witness hearing reads: ‘Beaten until they peed in their pants’
IOL, another major news platform in South Africa, described from a hearing: “A witness explained how he had learned of 10 cases of rape in KwaSizabantu. The first case involved a 16-year-old girl who was raped by a pastor, and when she reported the problem to an older pastor, he raped her too”.
Meanwhile, the KwaZulu Natal Provincial Executive Council is encouraging people to contact the CRL Commission and offer their testimony so that the truth of any allegations can be established.
Further serious accusations also in the next hearing – headline on New24: “Daughters of KwaSizabantu leader involved in sexual assault”. A witness had been forced to suck the breasts of the bar-daughters and to “touch them on other parts of her body”.
“The Sowetan” reports from a hearing:
“The CRL Rights Commission gained further shocking insights into alleged abuses at the hearing in Johannesburg on Thursday in the KwaZulu-Natal-based Christian mission KwaSizabantu.
One of the alleged victims testified how her family was left broken after her brother died in mysterious circumstances in the church.
Nduduzo Mtungwa said that after her older brother wrote a letter to a girl, he was found lying dead in a church room a few days later. He was beaten, allegedly by her uncle, who like her parents was part of the church. However, her family believes that they were not told the whole story and that her uncle was used as a cover. “I would like someone to investigate so that we can get the truth about what really happened,” she said.
And again and again similar headlines throughout South Africa: “CRL Commission hears shocking testimonies of sexual assaults and empty promises in KwaSizabantu.
On Wednesday, October 21, the CRL Commission will visit Mission KwaSizabantu. The whole area is being cleaned at the moment, the inhabitants of the mission were briefed for the day in a two and a half hour meeting on Sunday. From KwaSizabantu comes the news that the meeting warned about former KSB members who are said to offer 20,000 Rand if someone tells fictional stories about abuse and beatings etc. in front of the CRL Commission. The fantasy stories about the intended takeover of the mission and its operations were also repeated. Other statements in the congregation recall the persistence and behavior of the Jim Jones sect in Guyana. (See Wikipedia: Jonestown Massacre). Meanwhile, the Mission has called on its supporters to provide positive testimonies about their life with KSB in order to counter the massive public accusations. The Mission’s website now piles up reports about the beautiful world on KwaSizabantu.
The curtain of beautiful stories is supposed to hide the huge mountain of sin and guilt behind it.
Meanwhile, the CRL Commission may also plan to hear witnesses from Europe about abuse in the ranks of the KwaSizabantu Mission. Witnesses about abuse can be sent to the commission at the following e-mail address:
Translations with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)