In the grip of a cult?

2013-03-16 00:00

THEY begged not to go, children as young as one year old, crying as police and social workers led them from their barricaded “home”.

By the time the police vans rumbled out of the rural homestead, more than 100 children — 67 of them under 18 — had been removed.

Inside the illegal shelter in uMzimkhulu were the remains of a bizarre religious den.

The raid on the property yesterday by police and Social Development officials revealed a world of strange symbols, Doomsday verses and rambling slogans pasted on every conceivable wall.

Under a large tent erected on the property stood a makeshift altar consisting of a circle and 12 rocks within it, organised in patterns of fours, threes and twos.

On the altar and in their sleeping quarters, red squares and other markings in red paint daubed the walls.

Major General Mjabuliswa ­Ngcobo, a policeman with 32 years’ experience, said that in all his time as a detective he had never seen anything like it.

He found court papers that were streaked with red paint.

The papers were from a previous case involving the owner of the property, but he was acquitted.

The man was arrested yesterday in the presence of provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni.

Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said he would face charges of child abuse and child neglect.

Zwane said he would appear in uMzimkhulu Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

“The matter is still under investigation and more charges may be added,” said Zwane.

“We cannot confirm at this stage if he is a religious leader.”

Religious references were everywhere on the property.

“With God anything is possible,” read one chart, but below that another said “6 armed men kill”.

Pictures of lions, white horses and swords, accompanied by what seemed to be religious verses, were pasted on walls.

When Weekend Witness asked a boy of 11 what the symbols meant, he responded: “It seems as though you are asking too much.”

The children would reply in robotic fashion when asked how they were doing: “We don’t answer to how we’re feeling.”

A 20-year-old claimed she had been a resident since the age of three and had never attended school in her life. However, she was fluent in English.

Last year, principals of schools in the area apparently complained about the owner’s conduct, alleging that the children there were not going to school.

When the children were asked what they did the whole day, they simply said: “We play, eat and sleep.”

Neighbours who had gathered outside the perimeter fence claimed the children came from well-to-do families in the Eastern Cape who had paid for their children to live there.

“These children don’t go to school and they don’t play with other children in the neighbourhood,” said a concerned neighbour.

When one of the children was asked why he didn’t like going to school, he replied: “We don’t go to school because children die in school, and we like it here very much.”

The property has outhouses where the children sleep.

The girls stay in a simple building, with barricaded windows and gas cylinders used for cooking.

The boys are housed in a basic room with blacked-out windows and rows of mattresses on the floor.

MEC for Social Development Weziwe Thusi asked the man why he was keeping the children and when he planned to let them go.

“I’m waiting for the Holy Spirit to tell me where I should take them,” was his reply.

Thusi then asked the man, who cannot be named until his court appearance, if he had a licence or certificate to house the children.

He said he didn’t.

The children were removed in terms of Section 152 of the Children’s Act, which permits the removal of a child without a court order by a social worker or police official in certain circumstances.

They have been taken to an approved shelter.

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