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🇿🇦 The height of impertinence

The Gauteng Provincial High Court orders the release of documents relating to the KwaSizabantu case – but the CRL Commission disregards the order. Instead, it is pestering former victims of the mission with obscure offers to organise a reconciliation meeting with KwaSizabantu. A request is now to be made for an urgent procedure to ensure that the CRL documents are published.

It was on Ascension Day, 9 May 2024, when Celimpilo Malinga received an email whose content seemed somehow familiar to her. The sender was the CRL Commission, the South African constitutional body that began investigations and conducted witness hearings in spring 2020 following fierce public allegations of abuse at the KwaSizabantu Mission. At the time, Celimpilo Malinga was one of numerous witnesses to the scandalous events who tearfully recounted their suffering at one of Africa’s largest Christian missions. In the email, the CRL Commission wrote to Celimpilo inviting her to a virtual meeting to prepare a “reconciliation meeting with the KwaSizabantu Mission”. Strangely, back in February, a representative of the commission had called the now 48-year-old woman, who was once brutally abused as a young girl at the mission, and asked her to attend reconciliation talks with KwaSizabantu. She had asked a series of questions, received no answers and then refused.

Celimpilo Malinga wrote back to the Commission what she had already said to their staff on the phone, including a lot of questions. “What is the reason for the meeting, who is attending? Why me? How did you choose me? Are these meetings held with all victims?”  And: when did the change of heart come? “It wasn’t long ago that Dirk, the spokesman for the mission, claimed on TV that I was a liar and was planning to take over the mission with others. Why on earth would they want to reconcile under such circumstances?” For Malinga, it is clear: “If this is a reaction to the recommendation of the CRL’s late report, I will decline the invitation as the report does not find any wrongdoing on the part of the mission. What is left to say?” The only thing left for her to say to the Commission was: “I would like them to recognise the injustice that occurred under the supervision of the Mission. I ask for clarity as to whether I will be granted this or not.”

After the traumatic experiences with the mission, mistrust is high – including mistrust in the commission. After all, it has not been forgotten that it took almost three years after the start of the “investigations” for the CRL Commission to present a final report, in July 2023. However, this only happened after endless delays, several missed deadlines and ultimately only after considerable legal pressure from a group of witnesses against KwaSizabantu. The group had filed a so-called mandamus application with the High Court to force publication. Shortly before the court’s decision, the CRL relented and presented the paper after all. However, the report absolved the discredited KwaSizabantu Mission of all blame with such soft wording that half of South Africa may have wondered what kind of favours the super-rich mission could have offered the members of the Commission in return. The commission’s only concrete recommendation: KwaSizabantu should apologise to its former members “for the damage caused by its practices”. The CRL had stated in the report that everything was in order and that the teachings, principles and rules of the mission fell within the scope of religious freedom. Philip Rosenthal, Director of Christian View Network, called the paper “evasive and irrational”, national media accused the CRL of a “deliberate exclusion of negative facts” that could “cast a bad light on KSB”, numerous evidences of sectarian practices in KwaSizabantu had been evaded by the commission and it had not taken evidence into account. Witnesses against KwaSizabantu called the paper “a farce”. The report did not contain a word about their statements at the hearings.

They would have liked to know how the CRL Commission was able to issue a certificate of absolute innocence after the harrowing accounts of traumatised KSB victims of the scandalous mission. So the representatives of the victims of KwaSizabantu first approached the Commission to review the documents that had been created during the investigations. When the CRL did not respond, they again applied to the High Court of Gauteng to have the documents disclosed. The court granted the application and ordered the disclosure. This is the height of insolence on the part of the CRL as a constitutional institution: to date, it has made no effort to comply with the court.

A strange situation: despite a court order, the constitutional institution CRL is not releasing the documents of the investigations and at the same time is trying to initiate something like a reconciliation between KSB and its victims. What is going on? Could reading the documents surrounding the KSB affair disprove the CRL’s independence in the entire process and prove its incompetence, which is why the documents are better left in the cupboard? Or is the Commission looking for easy prey with the help of which it can present itself as the great angel of peace? Or are the ladies and gentlemen around CRL Chairman Prof Mosoma aware that the documents provide enough material for the court to declare their final report null and void?

The KSB victims’ lawyers assume that this is a “hypocritical attempt” to lure their clients into a compromise situation in order to finally submit an affidavit claiming that the disputes between KSB and its victims have been settled amicably. They surmise that the Commission is speculating that there will then be no grounds for a complaint against them and the case will have to be dismissed. “We have no reason to believe that this approach by the Commission is a serious offer. Everything they have done so far points to bias and complicity with KSB,” said one of the KSB victims’ lawyers. In order to finally gain access to the files, they have now filed an urgent application in the High Court of Gauteng. “The application will be heard next week and we hope that if they are forced to give us their transcripts and documents through the Clark of the Court (an officer of the court), we will have done justice,” one lawyer told the KSB victims’ representatives.

It now remains to be seen whether the High Court will take action against the constitutional institution or whether the CRL Commission will come up with some other dodge to hide the sloppiness of its work and save the KwaSizabantu mission from a public admission of guilt. What is certain is that South Africa’s judiciary will still have a lot to do in the KwaSizabantu case.