KwaSizabantu Mission has described its leader, Erlo Stegen, as a visionary who devoted his life to “God’s cause”.
The missionary died on Tuesday. He was 88.
A divisive figure, he led the cult-like mission behind multimillion-rand enterprises such as aQuelle and Emseni Farming.
Erlo Stegen, the founder of KwaSizabantu Mission, has died.
The lifelong missionary – who has been at the helm of the contentious, cult-like mission station since its establishment in 1952 – was ailing in recent years.
He died early on Tuesday morning at the age of 88.
The mission confirmed his death, describing the divisive figure as an “innovative and influential visionary”.
Stegen, who also suffered from dementia, had god-like status among KwaSizabantu followers. This was corroborated by a two-person panel appointed by the mission itself following allegations of cultism and human rights abuses in a News24 exposé three years ago.
Dismissed as a “sham” report after its release, advocate Khumbu Shazi and attorney Peter Le Mottée concluded that KwaSizabantu was not a cult and cleared the mission of wrongdoing regarding allegations of rape, sexual assault, ongoing physical abuse and money laundering, among others.
The pair did, however, find that his followers had “blind faith” in Stegen and that they refused or were not able to regard him as fallible.
On Tuesday, his mission described “Baba Mfundisi” as a man who devoted his life to “God’s cause” from an early age.
“His belief in the divine authority of the Bible and his choice to believe as the Scriptures say, led to a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 1966. This resulted in decades of revival where God showed the world what He can do through one man who puts his life on the altar,” its statement read.
“Millions of visitors have passed through his ministry at KwaSizabantu Mission and received help and spiritual assistance. His legacy and impact on the lives of all who met him, are immeasurable.”
Stegen, of German descent, ministered across the world and started various outstations globally.
One in Switzerland has since withdrawn and changed its name to Evangelical Congregation Hof Oberkirch (ECHO) in Kaltbrunn.
Initially, the breakaway was a result of KwaSizabantu rebuffing its Swiss branch when it demanded an explanation following the allegations of abuse at its SA headquarters.
Two years ago, ECHO launched a probe led by a former federal judge and a Swiss law firm, to ascertain whether similar deeds had been practiced in Switzerland.
It was found that the advocated doctrine of the mission “led to transgressions of boundaries and sometimes serious abuses in religious, psychological, physical and sexual terms in the everyday life” of the mission community and its Domino Servite School.
In addition, there was “talk of a theology of fear, of a lack of personal protection, of exposure, of induced feelings of guilt, of a practice of interrogation and pressure to confess, of a culture of denunciation, manipulation and threats, of corporal punishment rituals, of oppression of women, of diabolisation of intersexual contacts, of over-sexualisation and taboo, of disregard for intimacy”.
These were identical to the claims made to News24 and during hearings of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.
In Switzerland, authorities are looking into the findings of the probe.
Back at home, the Chapter 9 institution recommended that KwaSizabantu should say sorry to its former members for the “hurt caused” by its practices, although it found the teachings, principles, and rules of the mission to be within the scope of freedom of religion.
This contentious finding is now being taken on review in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
by Tammy Petersen, News24