The Swiss KSB successors: “We plead guilty” – but: who is “we”?
Fifty-seven victims of the educational methods of the school of the Swiss branch of the South African Mission Kwasizabantu (KSB) have come forward to a community of practice in Bern to report abuse committed against them. This is according to a press release from the successor organisations of the sect, which they published this week on the website of the “Christian School Linth”. “Those responsible acted in a conspiratorial environment they created, taking care that not everyone saw what was happening,” reads the release, which describes the “Kwasizabantu Switzerland system”. The remnants of the Christian sect are trying to come to terms with the past after the separation of the Swiss section from the mission headquarters in South Africa three years ago. The media release tries to give the impression that the perpetrators of the past are no longer in their ranks. However, the statement tries to cover up the fact that the entire KSB community in Kaltbrunn stood united behind the inhumane methods of its leadership in Switzerland and the headquarters in South Africa by referring to the individual actions of a few members. Thus, the media release says: “The abuses can be traced back primarily to a teaching that was misinterpreted by individuals at the time, which led to certain people being unsettled by fear”. The facts are different: the abuse was programme, theologically and pedagogically. It was and is part of Kwasizabantu’s teaching. Several audio recordings of sermons in the sect prove this. With formulations such as “We deeply regret” or “We also apologise…” or “We plead guilty”, the “Evangelische Gemeinde Hof Oberkirch” and the “Christliche Schule Linth” are already addressing the public for the second time, although the final assessments of the inventory of the psychologists’ practice by a law firm of a former Swiss federal judge are not expected until spring. What is completely missing from the communication is any indication of who is behind the “we”. Who is “we”?
Here is the media release of 19-01-2022:
(The sentences marked with numbers at the end are commented on at the end of the text.).
Kaltbrunn, 19 January 2022
“We apologise to those affected and stand by the responsibility from the past.”
Initial findings from the independent investigation at the Evangelische Gemeinde Hof Oberkirch (EGHO) and the Christliche Schule Linth (CSL) into misconduct in the past show that there was mental and physical violence by individual former teachers and members of the congregation (1) towards children and young people in both institutions, particularly in the period up to 2002. In addition, there is evidence of two cases of sexual abuse at the end of the 1990s by former representatives of the school and other persons who used to be part of the community’s environment, as well as one case of sexual abuse among two former pupils. The current leadership of the community as well as the current representatives of the school are shocked by what happened (2) and formally apologise to those affected by violence and abuse for the harm done to them. The community as well as the school want to continue to seek dialogue with those affected and offer support. Furthermore, a new start of the EGHO as well as the CSL under new leadership as well as preventive measures for the future were decided. In 2002, the EGHO and the CSL had already emphasised that they would pursue a policy of zero tolerance towards violence of any kind. This was reaffirmed with the complete separation from the Kwa Sizabantu Mission (KSB) in South Africa in spring 2019, after allegations of corruption and abuse became known there (3).
Against the background of South African reports of misconduct at the Kwa Sizabantu Mission, from which the Evangelische Gemeinde Hof Oberkirch separated in 2019, the leadership of the EGHO and the CSL had decided to launch an independent investigation based on a proposal made in spring 2021. The aim is to have the history of both institutions examined impartially and without reservation by independent bodies. The investigation will focus on the question of whether there was also misconduct in the Swiss congregation before the separation from the KSB Mission. The investigation is led by Niklaus Oberholzer, a former federal judge and now a partner in the law firm Capt Zollinger, and his office partner David Zollinger. They are conducting and evaluating the process as part of an external, independent investigation. Niklaus Oberholzer and David Zollinger have been given access to all old and new files and will prepare a final report with recommendations. The final report is expected in spring 2022.
As part of the investigation, all parishioners were first asked in writing about possible observed or experienced misconduct. A total of more than 500 former pupils or members of the church were written to, who were able to contact the independent group practice for psychotherapy and psychological counselling of Daniel and Regina Zwiker in Bern under the protection of therapeutic confidentiality until mid-December. A total of 57 affected persons contacted the independent hotline. (4)
After the talks between the therapist couple and the affected persons were concluded at the turn of the year, the first findings show that there were boundary violations and abuses especially up to the time until 2002.
The abuses can be traced back mainly to a teaching that was misinterpreted by individuals at the time, which led to certain people being unsettled by fear. (5) The understanding of a punishing God prevailed. In addition, the teaching of the time also violated the equality of men and women. (6) Violations of boundaries and abuses such as beatings were presented as just punishment by those responsible to those affected. Those in charge acted in a conspiratorial environment created by them, where care was taken that not everyone saw what was happening. The relationship of trust between chaplains and children and parishioners was abused in the cases described. (7) The reports of those affected show that the religious abuse hurt, deeply unsettled and prevented critical questions.
Two former students reported repeated sexual violence in the late 1990s by former representatives of the school and other persons who used to be part of the community’s environment. The other case in the late 1990s allegedly involved repeated sexual violence between two students. Evidence of misconduct on the part of a former teacher in the noughties involving sexual boundary violations against female pupils was also evident. (8)
Gross physical violence, which caused great suffering and pain, occurred especially in the 1990s. In 2002, corporal punishment was explicitly prohibited in the school regulations. In 2003, the Federal Court banned the use of violence in Swiss educational institutions. (9)
“We deeply regret that suffering has occurred to the children entrusted to our care. We are shocked and ashamed by the number and incidents of abuse that have occurred. We take any allegation of boundary violation or wrongful act very seriously. We formally apologise to those affected and acknowledge their suffering and stand by our responsibilities from the past. We also apologise for not initiating this investigation years ago when the first signs of wrongdoing became apparent. (10) We were too quick to settle for easy answers and reactions. We regret this from the bottom of our hearts. We cannot undo suffering, but we want to redress injustice transparently and, above all, as far as possible. Finally, we also want to do everything we can to ensure that such misconduct is no longer possible in our community and at our school,” explains Othmar Voser, executive president of the Evangelische Gemeinde Hof Oberkirch.
Specifically, this means:
1. all community leaders of the EGHO, the board of the CSL supporting association and the school board of the CSL step down from their positions. The elections for the new bodies should be completed in spring 2022. Josef Morger is standing for election as the representative of the younger generation for the leadership of the EGHO. Before that, the community will give itself a new structure. Interested parties will have to apply for formal membership. The leaders of the congregation will in future be elected directly by the members. The school council will in future be led by Josua Hausmann, who is also a member of the young generation. In order to ensure the running of the business, those currently in charge will remain in office in an executive capacity until the respective elections have been completed.
2. All teachers who are in any way responsible for the abuses, either by omission or active involvement, are no longer employed at the CSL or their employment contracts have been terminated.
3. The CSL will provide appropriate content for the prevention of abuse as part of teacher training and will also carry out a detailed assessment when recruiting new teachers
4. The relevant authorities are informed of the initial findings of the investigation and the changes and measures taken.
5. The community as well as the school will formally apologise to all those affected by abuse or transgressive behaviour for the harm done to them.
6. The dialogue with those affected will be continued. EGHO and CSL will offer direct talks to those affected.
7. EGHO and CSL offer therapeutic and legal support in coming to terms with the experiences made. Experienced and independent specialists are available as direct contact persons for those affected. If help is needed that is not covered by third parties, the costs are covered. Unbureaucratic support is offered in special cases. As before, contact can be made through the independent therapists.
8. EGHO and CSL promote a culture of openness. To this end, an independent ombudsman service will be established for community members, students and parents.
9. EGHO and CSL, with their legal advisors, explore possible legal action against those responsible in connection with the misconduct cited.(12)
“What happened was and is wrong. The teaching applied at the time and the image of humanity associated with it are not compatible with what the congregation as well as the school stand for since 2019 at the latest. Our faith stands for respect and love towards every human being. We accept responsibility for the past and want to help ensure that a system of fear never gets another chance and that every person who has something to say is always listened to. As a new generation, we stand for the future of the community (13) and also for the path of renewal and further development that we have already walked together since 2019,” say Josef Morger, designated new head of the EGHO, and Josua Hausmann, designated new head of the CSL school council.
We comment on some of the statements in the media release as follows:
- …that there was mental and physical violence by individual former teachers and community members in both institutions, especially in the period up to 2002…
The group tries to hide behind “individual” teachers and community members. However, beating children was part of the basic programme in the sect and was followed throughout, not only at school and boarding school but especially in the families.
- …The present leadership of the community as well as the present representatives of the school are shocked by what happened …
The current leadership of the school and the community of Hof Oberkirch express a “shock” that is not credible. No name of the previous school directors appears – apart from Othmar Voser – no name of the community leaders – nothing. It is, so to speak, an “anonymous shake-up”. Designated leaders can be “shaken” about the past, but they are not responsible for it.
- Already in 2002, the EGHO as well as the CSL had underlined that a zero tolerance policy towards any violence would be followed…
Zero tolerance policy sounds good, but the statement hides the fact that the alleged zero tolerance policy towards violence in 2002 was only because the school had been closed by the authorities for a few weeks after they had been informed about abuse at the school. At the time, the school was threatened with the revocation of its licence to operate a school.
- A total of 57 victims contacted the independent hotline.
57 former pupils of the school at Hof Oberkirch have spoken out after several years about the abuse committed against them. That is an enormous number. The abuse happened 20 years or more ago, many of those affected want to forget it and will therefore not have come forward. The number of victims is therefore definitely higher. With more than 500 pupils contacted, at least about ten per cent are affected by abuse. The question that is being asked is: How many additional victims of abuse have there been in the families of the sect, spurred on by the sermons?
- The abuses are mainly due to a teaching that was misinterpreted by individuals at the time, which led to certain people being unsettled by fear.
This does not correspond to the facts. The teaching was not misinterpreted by “individuals”, the teaching demanded and promoted abuse. It was generally built on repression and fear. Those who did not function according to the rules had to fear severe punishment at any time – from beatings to psychological pressure to being sent to the mission headquarters in South Africa.
- In addition, the teaching of the time also violated the equality of men and women.
In the sentence before it is only individual culprits, here it is suddenly the teaching. The recently deceased Kwasizabantu representative for Europe, Friedel Stegen, liked to preach that the woman was the saucer, the man the cup. Or: He liked to describe how he gave his wife the choice whether she would rather take the red or the blue suitcase if she had to leave his house in case of disobedience. He always suggested similar behaviour to the men in the congregation in sermons.
- The relationship of trust between pastors and children and parishioners was abused in the cases described.
It was often not possible to speak of a relationship of trust. Pastoral care was a duty that many children and young people were reluctant to fulfil. They were constantly in conflict with either being rejected by God if they did not confess their sins – or being severely punished if they did confess sins.
- Two former students reported repeated sexual violence in the late 1990s by former representatives of the school and others who used to be part of the community. The other case in the late 1990s allegedly involved repeated sexual violence between two students. Evident, moreover, was the misconduct on the part of a former teacher in the noughties involving sexual boundary violations against female pupils.
Even more interesting than the list of sexual abuse cases would be the description of how the community and the management at Oberkirch Court dealt with it. In one case, there was the gauntlet of a rape victim between the KSB institutions in Switzerland and South Africa and the parents. The victim was branded a whore, publicly denounced and expelled from the community.
- In 2002 corporal punishment was explicitly prohibited in the school regulations. In 2003, the Federal Supreme Court prohibited the use of violence in Swiss educational institutions.
Corporal punishment was only stopped because, see point 3, the authorities took action and threatened a possible closure of the school Hof Oberkirch. The reference to the fact that the Swiss Federal Court prohibited the use of force in Swiss schools in 2003 is a typical Kwasizabantu reference: it is meant to say: “We were so good and did it earlier than the Federal Court decided”.
- We deeply regret …..We also apologise for not initiating this investigation years ago when the first signs of wrongdoing became apparent.
Who is “we regret”? We is anonymous and sweeping. Underneath this statement is just one name of many who are still in the congregation at Oberkirch Court and have kept the door open to abuse.
When the “first signs” of misconduct became clear and were named by members, not only were no investigations initiated – those who named faults were ostracised, cut by congregation members and cursed from the pulpits as “servants of Satan”. Where is the admission that the entire management in KSB-Switzerland denied the misconduct as such and rather covered it up and defended it with all means, did not follow up on indications of wrong developments, deliberately lied to the authorities, hindered the clarification and publicly disavowed questioners and critics as “enemies”?
- All teachers who are in any way responsible for the abuse, either by omission or active participation, are no longer employed at CSL or their employment contracts have been terminated.
The abuse was not only committed at the school, it was preached again and again in the community and the sermons were followed – here and there. The intention here is to give the impression that in the area of the school on the Oberkirch farm there is no longer a perpetrator, no longer a guilty party. There is silence about the perpetrators and those responsible for the abuse still present in the community today.
- EGHO and CSL are examining with their legal advisors possible legal steps against those responsible in connection with the misconduct mentioned.
This sounds determined, but is at best a petitesse. Because legally there is not much more that can be done, most of it is time-barred. The perpetrators and the current management of the community and the school know this. Sexual abuse of children under the age of 12, however, is not subject to the statute of limitations, and there may have been such a case in Kaltbrunn.
- We accept responsibility for the past and want to help ensure that a system of fear never gets another chance and that every person who has something to say is always listened to. We stand as a new generation for the future of the community…
What does it mean when the new generation accepts responsibility for the past – that the generation of perpetrators does not accept it? This is what it looks like: writing blurry texts about responsibility, publishing them on a website, – on the websites of the successor organisations of Mission Kwasizabantu there is not a single name to be found, no one responsible for anything, the viewer enters a room where there is no one – this is wine in old wineskins, you know it already. Where do the pious gentlemen who have watched the misery for decades, promoted it and tolerated it, where are their names to be read? Who is: WE plead guilty?
At this point we recall an article in the Schweizer Sonntagsblick of 11 July 2004 and an article in the St. Galler Tagblatt of 23 October 2006:
Translation with https://www.deepl.com/de/translator