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Fear of Authority

Flag of Great Britain means Englisch language A 4-part examination of the role of fear in the theology and practices of KwaSizabantu and the psychological implications for children – Part 2

Writer: Daniel Schricker, PhD

‘It is true that the children who went to school at Domino [Servite] lived in constant fear as they were often beaten for such little things as clapping hands during a play performance, dancing to a song, listening to music with a beat, rejoicing over defeating a netball team of elders, speaking to a girl or a boy, and many more…’- Khulekani Mathe (former member of KwaSizabantu) [1]

“It wasn’t hidings. It was beatings… It wasn’t one, two, three smacks. He would go until you either started crying or stopped crying.”- Tabita van Eeden (former member and daughter of preacher at KwaSizabantu) [2]

The adults (parents, teachers, co-workers/preachers, other parents) placed in authority over the children are essentially the representatives of KwaSizabantu’s vindictive God on earth. I should state at the outset that I do not believe all the adults/parents to be inherently sadistic. The tragedy is that many of them are kind, decent people who have been brainwashed into believing in the malevolent God of KwaSizabantu. More than that, they have bought into KwaSizabantu’s philosophy of raising children, regarding it as an essential part of living among ‘revived’ Christians. However, according to the allegations emerging, some of the adults placed in authority over children did exhibit a level of sadism which went beyond misguided religious fervour.

Having established a worldview in which a vindictive, omniscient God is the ultimate reality, the leadership of KwaSizabantu set about ensuring that this was reinforced in much more tangible, practical ways in the lives of the children in their care. It has probably become apparent through part 1 of this series that KwaSizabantu’s God is not easily appeased and demands from His followers the keeping of a very specific set of rules to ensure the continuation of ‘revival’. Although this certainly applied to the adults too, the rules were enforced in the lives of children in a particularly brutal fashion.

Speaking to those who were raised at KwaSizabantu, one common theme emerges very quickly: an intense fear of those in authority was instilled as they were subjected to the most stringent set of laws with horrifying punishments for the slightest deviation. KwaSizabantu themselves have not made a secret of this. Even the Domino Servite School Code of Conduct has some very troubling stipulations. It is important to realise that this went far beyond a reasonable expectation of behaviour that one might find in any normal Christian school. Jay Roderick describes it in the following way:

Then there were the endless rules. Anything that you can think of, there was a rule for it. And all these rules were loaded with the full retribution of god. Clothing. Speaking. Hair. Facial hair. Who not to talk to. Greeting. Praying. Counselling. Relationships. Literature. Music. Etc. Many rules were unwritten, you only found out about them when you got into trouble. [3]

It is apparent that no part of a child’s life was left unscathed by the ethos of the mission. When subjected to this type of scrutiny, a child begins to lose itself and its identity, becoming merely another pawn in the machine that is the ‘revival’ at KwaSizabantu. The essential characteristics that make each child unique are ignored. Conformity and uniformity are the order of the day. For the bubbly, extroverted child this created some obvious difficulties, and the only recourse was to withdraw and suppress their personality. The need to avoid being the centre of attention for fear of being singled out for punishment becomes deeply embedded in the child’s psyche. Erika Bornman writes:

Let us go a little further with our young child. In order to cope in this foreign, hostile world in which she suddenly finds herself, she would need to withdraw into herself. She is taught that everything human is a sin. Even friendship. [4]

For the introverted, sensitive child, they would simply have to watch on in horror and do everything in their power to go unnoticed. Sadly, the effects of this psychological abuse persist into adulthood in most cases. An article by News24 about Tabita van Eeden (quoted at the start of Part 2) highlights the anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder she still suffers from many years later. In an interview with News24 she states:

Someone asked me ‘What are your good childhood memories?’…and I said ‘I don’t have any’…It was so regimented, you had to do everything their way, their time. They play with your head’.2

Where does a child turn with a hostile God above them, a hostile hierarchy of authority around them, and (as they are frequently reminded) a hostile hell below them? It is important to remember that all of the rules imposed upon children at KwaSizabantu are allegedly directed by God. Any questioning, deviation, or rebellion is thus an assault on the adults in authority and the Almighty Himself.

The most disturbing aspect of the enforcement of these rules by the adults in authority was the punishment dealt to children who failed to keep them. In a lot of cases, this took the form of severe physical abuse in the form of beatings. Not a reasonable, moderate corrective discipline as some have suggested. Horrifying beatings that left many with permanent physical and psychological scars. Even the panel appointed by the mission themselves to investigate the allegations acknowledged that the beatings given to children on the mission were ‘vicious’. [5] Former member of KSB Simphiwe Mhlebela testified before the CRL stating that children were ‘beaten until they peed in their pants’. [6] Due to the failure in demarcating the school as a separate entity from the mission, these brutal punishments were allegedly shared between teachers and parents alike. Another former member who testified at the CRL was Sibonelo Cele. Speaking of how corporal punishment was administered, he said:

This was carried out by subterfuge. Parents had been compelled to give parental authority to KwaSizabantu to administer corporal punishment in the event that they wished their kids to proceed education on the mission. Alternatively, DSS will expel the kid for even inconsequential misdemeanours. Beatings were administered with a plumbing plastic pipe. Often you did not know how many lashes you were going to get. Furthermore, these would be for nebulous conduct such as an allegation that you are obstinate, bad influence, walked cocky, or you have not confessed sins in a while. [7]

Leaving aside the obvious physical trauma for a moment, it is worth contemplating the psychological effects of this environment. Even if they managed to escape the beatings themselves, they were forced to exist in an environment where the threat of this kind of brutality was an ever-present reality. The adults in authority were to be feared. Not to mention that there are reports that beatings were carried out in front of other students to ensure maximum humiliation for the victim and to deter other children from misbehaving. Some former members of KwaSizabantu have spoken of ongoing struggles to ever reach a place in life where they are measuring up to the expectations of the people around them as a result of growing up in this environment.

Parents of even young children were convinced that by being harsh and unloving they were doing what was best for the child. I recall observing a boy of 3 or 4 doing his utmost to sit quietly throughout a tediously long church service. Evidently, he was pleased with his efforts as he turned to his mother for affirmation, enquiring whether he had been good. “No,” came the swift response from the mother and his face fell. Fear of even parental authority was common.

When spending time at the mission in 1996 I was looked after in what was essentially the equivalent of a childcare program as my mother was working at Radio Khwezi. One on occasion my lunch box was taken by a Zulu boy, aged around 4 or 5. Inevitably, his actions were soon discovered. “Er hat Teufel” (“he has a devil inside him”) was the verdict of the woman who apparently had been deemed competent enough to watch over young children. Really? A little boy who was tempted by a lunch box is now possessed by the devil?

In addition to the physical violence which children were subjected to by those in authority, humiliation and psychological abuse were the primary ways that they were victimised. Bornman and Roderick both relate that teachers at the school threatened to cut off childrens’ hands as a form of psychological punishment. Allegations have also been made of children being made to wear humiliating signs around their neck or being forced to stand in a public area as punishment. Roderick recalls an example of this:

Another teacher announced at assembly that the parents of one of the school children had not paid their school fees, so she made that child stand in the hallway where all the other school children passed by so that the child could be properly embarrassed. This is the ancient punishment called the laughing stock: certainly not acceptable in 21st century schools.[3]

My sisters briefly attended Domino Servite at KwaSizabantu and recall children being forced to kneel on the pavement in public areas and even a girl who was forced to wear a tail and a sign around her neck saying “I am a tattle tale”. Celimpilo Malinga also relates an event where a boy was shamed by being made to stand on the stage, causing him to wet his pants.[8]

Sadly, the public humiliation did not cease once the children grew into adults. This was especially true of those who left the mission or spoke against it. Some former members were subjected to the indignity of having to hear their own parents deny all the allegations against the mission in public livestreams at the CRL hearings. Others have been targeted in videos available on Youtube. Erika Bornman, for example, has been publicly shamed from the pulpit of KSB not only by preachers but by her own mother. Is this really the fruit of the Spirit of God?

Children at KwaSizabantu were even taught to fear their friendships in the context of authority, due to the pervasive culture of ‘snitching’ fostered there. One of the chapters in Erika Bornman’s ‘Mission of Malice’ is titled ‘Snitches don’t get Stitches’. She highlights how widespread and destructive this practice was. She writes:

…friends aren’t friends at KwaSizabantu, not in the way that friendships work in the real world. We can’t really confide in each other. I can’t tell her about stuff that bothers me, and she can’t tell me what troubles her. If I know of a friend’s sin and I don’t tell on her, I’m as guilty as she is. The same goes for her. And if neither of us talk, and one of us gets found out and it emerges that the other knew about it, then we are both dealt the same punishment. How can you trust your friends? They may agree with you today that something is weird or wrong or odd or laughable, but in two weeks’ time, they might be sitting in a church service and God might speak to them and show them the error of their ways. And then they will go and confess this conversation you had. And you will be in so much trouble. The art of snitching is encoded in Domino Servite School’s code of conduct. In a subsection (‘Expected Behaviour’) of section 9 (‘Administering Reward and Punishment’) of the 2019 code of conduct we find: • Exposure of irregular behaviour • Admit a fault before exposure. The race is on. Will your ‘irregular behaviour’ be exposed before you’ve admitted to it? You’ve got to give the school board credit for being students of history. In the death camps of World War II, the guards relied on the kapos (the Funktionshäftling) and the informers to help them maintain control over their prisoners. Snitch or be snitched on. Those are your choices. [9]

In addition to the obvious physical and psychological abuse of children, an unhealthy seriousness pervaded the treatment of children by those in authority. The emphasis of parenting was almost exclusively centred around discipline of children. A recurring ‘joke’ among the young parents of the Australian branch of KwaSizabantu was that the acronym which stood for attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.) really stood for adult discipline deficiency. Any emotional or behavioural issues with children were assumed to the result of defective parenting which was always reduced to a lack of severity and discipline. Gentleness, kindness, love, and affection towards children were relegated to a place of little importance. Thankfully some parents, like my own mother, were sensible and caring enough to disregard the extremes that KwaSizabantu went to in their view of parenting. Love, affection, and encouragement to succeed were the overriding principles in our home, though at times my mother experienced some mild opposition from members of the church as a result. Children from other families were not so lucky.

Psychologically, the constant emphasis on the children’s alleged failings and sins by those in authority means that they grow up with almost no healthy sense of self. Anxiety and insecurity are the norm, and simple tasks can feel overwhelming due to the pervasive fear of failure or doing something wrong. Much like the psychological conditioning found in Ivan Pavlov’s dog experiment, children who have grown up at KSB have been conditioned to respond to stimuli in a certain way. Even if they manage to find their way out of the mission, the conditioning is almost impossible to overcome completely as it was developed during their formative years.

As I bring this part to a close, I would like to draw attention to a quote from a very recent sermon given at KwaSizabantu by Dr. Albu van Eeden. His daughter has already been quoted, sharing her perspective. Her father said the following in a service on the 5th of September, 2021:

Can I say this to the young people, to the children in our midst? God takes it very seriously when you play – what you say and do. Do not think we are just playing; we are just children. God took Ishmael’s actions so seriously that he ended up being chased away. He lost his father. For the rest of his life, he lived without a father. What do you children play? What do you talk about? What do you say when you are playing? What do you do? Do you lose your temper? Do you do filthy things? Have you brought that to the light? Have you asked God for forgiveness? [10]

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether his words suggest a safe, loving atmosphere for children to be raised in.

We have seen that the authority structures at KwaSizabantu- the preachers/co-workers, the teachers at the school, and the parents- were all actively involved in the regimented environment which instilled fear in the children. I give the final word to psychologist (and former member of the Exclusive Brethren) Dr. Jill Mytton:          

‘I fear for the children today. I really fear for them. The children of Exclusive Brethren or the children of any other group that’s as closed as that, and as pathogenic as that. Because now, they not only have their home life and their church life- but they now are getting their school life, all three… important areas of their lives, all giving them the same message: that they’re worthless.’ [11]

(Still to follow: Part 3. Fear of Self, Part 4. Fear of the Outside World)

[1] Mathe, Khulekani. “No Grave is Deep Enough to Bury the Truth”., 2000. No Grave is Deep Enough to Bury The Truth | KSB Alert ( Accessed 19 September, 2021.
[2] Petersen, Tammy. “‘It Was Hell’- daughter of KwaSizabantu preacher speaks out about abusive childhood”. News24, 2021. Accessed 19 September, 2021.
[3] Roderick, Jay. “The Orphans of KwaSizabantu Mission”. Jay Roderick blog. Accessed 19 September, 2021.
[4] Bornman, Erika. Mission of Malice. Penguin Random House South Africa. Kindle Edition, 2021. 
[5] Le Mottee, Peter. Shazi, Kumbu. “Report of the investigation into the allegations against KwaSizabantu Mission by the Independent Panel”. 2020.
[6] Karrim, Azarrah. “’Beaten until they peed in their pants’- Former KwaSizabantu member testifies at CRL Commission” News24, 2020. Accessed 19 September, 2021.
[7] Singh, Kaveel. “KwaSizabantu: Boys sodomised and girls forced to reveal thighs for beatings, CRL commission hears”. News24, 2020. 19 September, 2021.
[8] News24. “Documentary: Exodus”. News 24, 2020. Accessed 19 September, 2021.
[9] Bornman, Erika. Mission of Malice. Penguin Random House South Africa. Kindle Edition, 2021. 
[10] KwaSizabantu Website: “Sunday Service 5 September 2021: Strive for Discernment”., 2021. Accessed 19 September, 2021.
[11] Mytton, Jill. ‘Jill Mytton Interview- Richard Dawkins’. Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, 2009.