The hopes of the numerous victims of abuse on Mission KwaSizabantu for justice and reparations have been put another damper on for the time being. After the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) has been stalling the victims for two and a half years with delays that can hardly be explained, it has now once again postponed the publication of the results of its investigations. The publication was supposed to take place on 5 May – now there is not even a new date for it. But even what leaks out of the preliminary report does not lead us to expect that the mission’s practices, which have been heavily criticised for decades, will be objected to by the Commission.
The Commission has let its own deadline pass because allegedly “lawyers representing some of the parties concerned have asked for a little more time to involve their clients”, as it was now said. The Commission had previously mentioned 18 April as the deadline after which no further comments on the draft final report could be accepted.
The victims of KwaSizabantu now no longer want to accept the Commission’s dilly-dallying. On their behalf Eberhard Bertelsmann, former judge at Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Gauteng, Pretoria, set the Commission a deadline of ten days. They want the report to be published by then, otherwise they plan to use a mandamus application – an order directing a party to take an action as a remedy – to force the publication of the report.
The letter to the CRL Commission states that the affected victims of the KwaSizabantu mission are dismayed by a further delay in the publication of the results of the investigations, the publication of which had already been promised several times in 2022.
The text of Judge Bertelsmann’s letter to the CRL Commission:
MISCONDUCT BY THE KWASIZABANTU MISSION (KSB)
We are instructed by our clients to express their dismay at the further postponement of the CRL Commission’s publication of the above report, which was promised to be made available on several occasions during 2022 already.
We attach hereto in support of this fact your correspondence with Bishop Martin Frische dating back to 2021, as well as our letter of January this year.
You reacted to this letter by producing a draft report on 31 March 2023 which was to be published today.
Yesterday, on 4 May 2023, you withdrew the report on the grounds of having to deal with further comments received.
NO NEW PUBLICATION DATE WAS PROVIDED.
We are instructed to inform you that the constant failure by the Commission to deal with the grave injustices perpetrated upon the victims of KSB, among them many children, increases the pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, psychological and psychiatric, of tens, if not hundreds of victims who have yet to find closure of the consequences of the misdeeds they suffered.
We are instructed to inform you that a mandamus application will be launched against the Commission to compel publication of the report if the same is not released within ten days from date hereof.
Meanwhile, one thing is clear though: Any expectations that the Commission could in any way negatively assess the mass abuse on KwaSizabantu or even announce any consequences for it are anything but realistic at the moment. For in its draft report, the Commission writes about the testimonies of victims of the mission as if it was none of their business what was practised on the mission for many years. It then reads like this: “The Commission also found that the fact that complainants/witnesses come forward even decades after the Mission’s practices and recount their painful experiences is an indication that these complainants still feel the pain of the past and the suffering they say was inflicted on them by the Mission, even though some allegations have not been proven.” Translated, this means that the Commission has evidence that KwaSizabantu’s victims still feel the suffering of the past. Question: Is that all the ladies and gentlemen of the CRL Commission have found out in two and a half years?
There is one sentence in the CRL preliminary report that raises the question of why the Commission investigated the abuse on KwaSizabantu in the first place. It says: “The Commission can only comment on allegations that have been admitted by the Church.” This sounds as if, in principle, a judge can only pass judgement on a defendant if the defendant admits to the offence. For the CRL, the case settles itself, so to speak, with the silence of KwaSizabantu.
The CRL Commission, by the way, is a so-called Chapter 9 institution – an organisation established under Section 9 of the South African Constitution to protect democracy. Are democracy and justice protected in the way the CRL Commission does here?
The South African media portal News24 reports that the CRL Commission found in its draft report that the teachings of Mission KwaSizabantu are within the scope of religious freedom and that its doctrines, principles and rules are constitutionally acceptable. Furthermore, it did not examine the conduct of church leaders and the way they practise their religion, as this would violate Article 15 of the Constitution, which focuses on freedom of religion, conscience, belief, thought and expression.
News 24 also mentions in this context the investigations into the practices in the former branch of the KwaSizabantu mission in Switzerland. In the end, there was talk of a “theology of fear”, of a lack of personal protection, of induced feelings of guilt, of a practice of interrogation and pressure to confess, of a culture of denunciation, manipulation and threats, of rituals of corporal punishment, of the oppression of women, of the diabolisation of intersexual contacts, of over-sexualisation and taboo and of disregard for intimacy”.
The complaints about the methods on the KwaSizabantu mission to News24 and at the CRL Commission hearings had exactly the same content as the investigation results in Switzerland. However, the CRL Commission was not impressed by the results of the processing in Switzerland that they were aware of.