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Insulted, demonised – but on the right track

After 23 years, has finally been confirmed

Today we are talking about us. We have been writing for the website ksb-alert for 23 years, which was conceived and launched in 1999 by a US American, a Swabian, a South African, a Dutchman and myself. Today, a group in Middle Africa looks after and is responsible for the website. We all gained experience with the mission “KwaSizabantu” and realised at that time: this is a cult.

For me it came like this:

Having travelled to South Africa on holiday as a journalist, I got to know KSB a few years before the website was activated. I liked the friendliness of the people there, I was in another world in a country I did not know, it was interesting and somehow fascinating. To my astonishment, I was accommodated with my wife in the beautiful house of the older brother of the mission leader, everything was dignified, nice room, nice ­- black – staff, whose obsequiousness made me uncomfortable at first. The contrast on the mission was enormous: from run-down quarters to beautiful mansion-like estates, everything was there, in front of my host’s house were parked three BMWs, 7s, 5s, 3s.

One evening, a film was shown in the devotional hall in which a motorcyclist went to hell because of his sin after he had a fatal accident. An ancient ham, 50s, in colour. The sermon, translated for the German corner, was fierce and left me wondering how a Christian person is supposed to get to heaven at all with such a message. Apparently a young woman was wondering the same thing, leaning alone against a wall with a sad face and visibly moved by what she had heard. I asked her what was going on, and the young woman replied in complete resignation: “I’ll never make it”.

“The blacks have smaller brains…”

Only a few days had passed and I began to collect questions. For example, why the head of the mission, Erlo Stegen, himself came to see me, a complete stranger, on the third day of my stay in his brother’s house, while other visitors sometimes waited weeks for an appointment with him. We had a friendly conversation at the end of which he asked me if I had already confessed my sins. I had! Because I had made my life confession six months earlier in the Gnadenthal community and experienced a fulminant inner liberation when I became aware of the grace that the priest there granted me in the name of Jesus and assured me of it. I also wondered why Erlo Stegen called that very evening and invited my wife and me to go with her to her beach villa right now. At breakfast the next morning, there were again many question marks in the air when Stegen talked about black people having smaller brains than white people, that they couldn’t even build proper houses and that Nelson Mandela was a criminal. Well, well: Black people have smaller brains??? And the numerous simple houses all over KwaZulu Natal, were all built by white people??? And Nelson Mandela….???

Actually, I already reached the point where I knew something was wrong. But: On the way to the beach villa, we went to a hospital in Pietermaritzburg where a young Swiss man was in a coma with severe hepatitis after excessive drug use. I went with Erlo Stegen to the fourth floor and he asked the German doctor about the patient’s chances of survival. The doctor replied, “By human standards, he won’t survive!” Stegen asked, despite the risk of infection, to be allowed to pray for the patient in the intensive care unit, which the doctor allowed. Adding to my collection of questions was this puzzling incident: at breakfast in the beach house the next morning, Erlo Stegen reported that the young Swiss man had come out of his coma and was doing better. Within a few hours from “He won’t survive this” to “He’s woken up, he’s better” – what was going on here? A miracle, or what? Two weeks later, the young man was sitting in Annunciation Hall on Sundays listening to the sermon. Can miracles be researched? Report miracles as being real? Those were questions too.

Back on the mission, I read Dr Kurt Koch’s book “God among the Zulus” in one day. The rapturous work of the once highly respected German pastor was written without any distance, strung together miracle after miracle and clearly reproduced almost only what the author had been told by the mission leaders of KwaSizabantu. It was public relations – an advertising brochure for the KwaSizabantu mission. But: hadn’t I just witnessed a miracle myself?

Lots of question marks

The question marks increased when we spent a week in a diamond mine with Friedel Stegen, where a few white mission workers of set age were tinkering with rusty equipment to make it work again. I learned that many friends of the mission, especially in Europe, had bought many shares in this mine for a lot of money. But nothing was going on here, there was no question of mining diamonds. What was this now? A Christian mission and a diamond mine, church members as shareholders, rusty equipment that does not work – how does that fit together?

We spent a few more days in the mission, when Erlo Stegen introduced me to a “colleague”, an “influential journalist”, as he said, on the sidelines of an open-air event. The “colleague” seemed to me to be too young to be described by the adjective “influential”. He greeted me with hectic gestures and obviously slightly insecure. When asked which newspaper he worked for, he said he worked for the Hanns Seidel Foundation of the Bavarian CSU in South Africa. He did not give any further details.

Half a year later, on a business trip to South Africa, I met the head of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation. When I told him about my encounter with the young man from the Hanns Seidel Foundation, he almost fainted and repeated three times, loudly and obviously totally horrified: “Impostor…, impostor…, impostor!!!” The “influential journalist”, he knew, was a busybody in his early 20s, supposedly commissioned to set up something like a CSU national group in South Africa. A total fake. I called Friedel Stegen, who thanked me for warning him about the impostor but continued to fall for the young man’s antics for years. How could missionaries experienced in dealing with people fall for such a boy, believe him to be an important figure in a German party and have great influence?

Meanwhile, in Europe, I got to know the leading figures of the Friends of KwaSizabantu Mission. The friendliness in the groups associated with KwaSizabantu in Germany, Switzerland, France and Holland was just as pleasant as in South Africa, the social structure similar to that of society as a whole, affluent, normalos and smaller circumstances. What was striking was extremely conservative clothing, young people without jeans, women never in trousers, always without jewellery. Also striking: I was suddenly called in everywhere. Friedel Stegen had arranged it, the community elders accepted without protest, and suddenly I was something of a VIP. They could probably use a journalist, perhaps for public relations, or to reassure doubters with the motto: “There’s a newspaper journalist, he wouldn’t be here if something wasn’t right”. My occasional substantive objections on certain occasions, however, only seemed original to them, but they were not heeded. Example: “Founding an association with the name “Christians for Truth” is risky, because we ourselves don’t always have the truth, they’ll get you on that one day!”…. Laughter, amused shaking of the head, founding with the name decided, next item. Later I found out that the club with this name already existed in South Africa, so in Europe it is not discussed but decided.

Thinking templates

My wife and I lived an independent life on the fringes of the German communities without the KSB laws, but always attended KSB retreats to spend time with befriended community members. The content of the sermons there was always the same. In Germany, Switzerland, France, Netherlands – always tighter, always more demands for behaviour, always more dress codes, always more on the subject of sexuality and “purity before marriage”. Increasingly, it was noticeable that young and old were given thinking templates and rules from which deviation was associated with risks. Parents were to separate from their children and children from their parents if the latter did not observe the community rules, community exclusion, public denunciation, everything was possible. When I asked Erlo Stegen what such radicalism was supposed to achieve, he only replied: “We have to be more radical than the Muslims”. Why? No answer! At a meeting of the leaders of the congregations in Germany now bearing the name of the mission centre “KwaSizabantu”, I urged them to think about whether sectarian structures were not developing here. Answer: “Yes, we should. Next item…!.”

And then it happened: A son of the KSB head Germany had been seen dressed in jeans, a daughter of the missionary had had a conversation with her future husband without supervision. Now it was the end of the line. The German head of mission, with the active help of his deputy, was put under massive pressure to publicly distance himself from his children because of this and to separate from them. Members of the leadership circle were asked to write letters to the head of mission and to put pressure on him. In the meantime, another son who worked on the mission in South Africa had reported to a circle of confidants about untenable conditions in the mission headquarters and complained about the way his person was treated. When the current leader of the Free Evangelical Fellowship Lindach reproached this mission worker during a stay in Germany for having talked about his observations and problems with other people in violation of the ban, it was finally clear: KwaSizabantu is a cult. After a few meetings in which we, a handful of people, tried without result to make it clear that the whole mission building was completely crooked in terms of content, theology, ideology and sometimes even criminal law, we packed our things and left.

Now the even more interesting part of my KSB story began. Watching the methods used to weed me out of the community, the attempt to create a rift between my wife and me, how KSB followers suddenly changed sides of the street when they recognised me in town – I had already read about such things in cults, but had not yet had the experience myself. Each new experience with KwaSizabantu followers confirmed the correctness of the statement that it was a cult. Suddenly, the young Berliner from South Africa stopped calling to check on my weekly contribution to Radio Khwezi. During an impromptu visit to a neighbouring village, I was hushed up by otherwise extremely lively KSB members; one couple even left the room when I entered. More and more often we heard people talking about the “apostates” who had now “gone into the world” and left the revival. The sermons in the sect increased in severity, now, in 1999, it was about the “enemies of the revival” who had “left God”, with whom one should no longer have any contact. “Whoever leaves KSB, his God is the devil”, it literally said. The Kollers, Läderachs, Mannharts, Vosers, Morgers and others in Eutope listened and were determined: Führer befiehl, wir folgen.

“Servants of Satan”

And then came, the website where every dropout was invited to tell their story with KSB. Where documents from the inner life of the sect suddenly became visible to the world. On which the teachings and customs, the theology and the abstruse rules were revealed. Erlo and Friedel Stegen now worked themselves to death in sermons on the website and its operators, because they had to fear that the secrets of their inhuman empire would come to light bit by bit. A son-in-law of Friedel Stegen, who had left the mission, was one of the first writers on the site. He confessed his culpability in the practices of the mission’s collaboration with South African intelligence during the apartheid era. After decades of secrecy, after endless time without any backtalk, the great KSB missionaries were helpless with rage in the face of the force of the sudden headwind. Erlo Stegen in particular shouted from the lectern into the halls in church meetings in Switzerland, Germany and Holland, cursing me as a “servant of Satan”. No one, not a single person in the KSB congregations in Switzerland, Germany or elsewhere said a word about it. For all of them it was clear: something like that could only come from the devil.

 Reading the website was now strictly forbidden to community members. KSB supporters loyal to the line tried all kinds of tricks to make the initially existing forum of the site unusable, in the forum itself KSB supporters tried to refute the criticism of KSB. The cult leaders even tried to stop the project with a lawsuit in Germany, in vain. But from now on, the Stegen empire began to crumble. In South Africa, the Ev. Alliance wrote a much acclaimed paper on abuse practices in the mission, the congregation in Tugela Ferry separated from KSB, and in Germany about 120 members walked away from the flag. The press started to take an interest in KwaSizabantu, Erika Bornmann’s harrowing story appeared in a magazine in South Africa, worldview officers of the churches asked ksb-alert about KSB and its organisations, the magazine idea called and wrote high-profile reports – from now on Erlo Stegen and KSB were on the defensive.

It should not go unmentioned that many people have turned to our website to obtain additional information in direct conversation, which they then used to warn people close to them about the cult. Sudden departures and farewells on the mission in KwaZulu Natal were several times the result of direct contacts between questioners and ksb-alert. From Switzerland, too, drop-outs repeatedly came forward and reported what they had experienced on the Oberkirch farm. This prompted us in 1999 to inform the cantonal authorities in St. Gallen about what was happening in the school and community at Hof Oberkirch by means of e-mails and telephone conversations with a Dr. Arta. The near closure of the boarding school at that time encouraged us – finally something happened against this terrible system.

Truth or all lies?

Now, 23 years later, the final report of the law firm Capt Zollinger is on the table. The findings of the psychologists and the summary evaluation of the practices in Mission KwaSizabantu Switzerland by the law firm prove the fundamental correctness of the critical comments and descriptions of since 1999. The “devil’s work” cursed by Erlo Stegen and his disciples was an attempt to help the truth to its right. This attempt has succeeded and has received a very late, but a competent confirmation. We are pleased and grateful for this. KSB leaders have always stressed that it is all lies on the website.

We would not be if we did not point out that there is still something to be clarified in the drama about the KSB school and the community in Kaltbrunn. Capt Zollinger’s final report asks a very interesting question at one point, the answer to which could be very exciting. Namely, “why did the Kwasizabantu Switzerland system remain in place until summer 2019, despite massive border violations in the past, and none of those still responsible today, or at least until recently, in the municipality and the school, fought back? ” The letters of apology from the former members of the management team do not shed any light on this. And the question is also not answered by the remark that one “was too quickly satisfied with simple answers and explanations”, as for example ex-KSB president Jürg Läderach explained in his letter of apology. Or with Walter Mannhart’s explanation that they had “waited too long”. The question is: Who and what did they ask, and what or with what did they actually “wait” for and why? And what answers did they get to what questions?

And now also the public prosecutor

One thing is certain: they knew everything. And they had all the information to refute all the “easy answers”. Cult leaders all over Europe read the ksb-alert website again and again. Again and again, parishioners in Kaltbrunn, Switzerland, informed us when there was a particularly loud rant in church services about the devil’s work on the internet: always when there was something new there. The truth behind the hide-and-seek game about questions answered too easily is this: they wanted it to be the way it is. And they wanted it to stay that way. They wanted to show that the “higher way” of Mission KwaSizabantu, an authoritarian system, was the best for the world. The gurus from South Africa had drilled this into them again and again, and they had internalised it and held on to it until it no longer worked. The result: traumatised people, a lot of suffering, destroyed lives, a totally ruined reputation – and now the public prosecutor is also entering the scene.

One more comment. You keep emphasising that all was actually well in the KSB community and Domino Servite School after 2002, i.e. after ex-KSB president Hans Koller was thrown out. It wasn’t! Would you like a taste? The “Südostschweiz”, today’s Linth-Zeitung, wrote at that time, on 13 July 2006:

“You are trained how to answer questions from the public,” says Amstutz. The dropout was a long-time member of Kwasizabantu (KSB) and decided to make her experiences on the Oberkirch farm public after intensive deliberations.

“I have not experienced any brainwashing. The people at Hof Oberkirch are happy,” Othmar Voser, a school board member of Domino Servite, told “Südostschweiz” yesterday. Amstutz contradicts this: “The whole system is built on mutual spying….

 “ The people at Hof Oberkirch are happy “….. it is breathtaking with which stories the cult leaders have repeatedly tried to deceive the public.

At the official end of the process of coming to terms with the Kaltbrunn disaster, it remains to be said that somehow everything is the same as always. Because back then, those who called themselves “responsible” in KwaSizabantu Switzerland “were too quick to settle for simple answers and explanations”. They are still doing so today. Only now these “simple answers and explanations” come from themselves.

We are not too quickly satisfied with that.

Jens Nissen

4 replies on “Insulted, demonised – but on the right track”

I was chased away from the mission in 2002, and never looked back once… yes i saw much, experienced even more, BUT God is faithful and carried me through all these years. After KSB I learned never to trust in man ever again, BUT to trust in God and God alone.

Jens, this is an excellent overview of this information delivery tool and forum! I remember years ago brainstorming with the team about the URL name. We decided on “ksb-alert” because it had that feisty second meaning “Be Alert.” As you know, one of the signature strategies of many cults is to “love bomb” potential new devotees. In KSB’s case often hurting, broken or spiritually hungry people are seduced by all the shiny, beautiful, successful aspects of it. The strategy is to seduce while dulling critical thinking and discernment. The intent is to heighten unconditional loyalty so that the contradictions and controversies just below the surface stay obscured or justified. Such incredible levels of volunteer investments of testimonials research went into developing some of the early content of this website. In fact, the whole story behind this website could read like a crime investigation documentary screenplay- meetings in huts on foggy, windswept African hillsides, boats in Dutch channels, and early internet tech communications. Those were amazing years. Years were a few people gave so much to help many. Thank you for your unswerving commitment to fact and truth. I hope we can have a reunion of the team sone day! -Greg Damron

I left Im 1989,so glad my 4 children was stil small, I’m farming in the Western Cape

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