CRL Commission hears harrowing testimony of sexual assault and empty promises at KwaSizabantu

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  • On the last day of its Gauteng leg, the CRL Rights Commission heard harrowing testimony about alleged abuse at KwaSizabantu Mission.
  • Maritjie Bothma testified about years of abuse and sexual assault at the mission and said she eventually attempted to commit suicide.
  • Mmeli Sibisi, who is the nephew of mission leader Lidia Dube, said the mission made empty promises to workers when it started to develop its business entities.


In a full day of harrowing testimony on Thursday, former members of the controversial KwaSizabantu Mission told the CRL Rights Commission of first-hand, disturbing experiences of abuse at the hands of members and leaders.

The commission is investigating allegations of abuse at KwaSizabantu after a News24 exposé.

Maritjie Bothma struggled through a flurry of emotions as she recounted years of alleged abuse and sexual assault at the mission, which, she said, started when she was a child in the house of mission leader Erlo Stegen.

Bothma said she was made to "suck on the breasts" of Stegen's daughters – Ruth Combrink and Elizabeth Vermaak – who "tormented" her as a child.

Through tears and gasping breath, Bothma said the abuse continued in her home as well as in school, adding that she was sexually abused by her counsellor at the mission.

When Bothma tried to report her counsellor, she said she was locked up in a tiny room for days, seemingly a common punishment for Bothma.

She said: 

Whenever you were naughty in class… they would come into the class with the co-workers and us 'naughty children' would be pointed out and you would be laid on the table and they would beat you in front of the class.

"If you were not responding to the beating, they would take you to Erlo Stegen's house, into his room, where you would be beaten up," Bothma said through tears.

Eventually, she started to express her unwillingness to be at the mission and "started communicating with… visitors at KwaSizabantu" for which she received brutal punishment.

Bothma sobbed: 

They made my mother open a Lux soap and I had to chew it, and the more I was vomiting soap they were beating me on my back.

After years of abuse, Bothma explained that she "couldn't take it anymore" and tried to commit suicide.

Co-workers

Mmeli Sibisi, his sister Ndumi Sibisi and brother Mbonisi Sibisi also shared their testimony before the commission on Thursday.

The Sibisi family is related to the mission's leader, Lidia Dube.

Speaking on behalf of their family, Mmeli Sibisi – Dube's nephew – said co-workers at the mission were not fairly paid and in some cases, not paid at all for their work at the mission.

Sibisi said:

You are made to understand upon arrival that you are here on a volunteer basis; do not expect any salary, any wages, any remuneration.

"But as the mission started to have profit-making entities supporting the ministry work, the general expectation was that the co-workers would start to earn a living."

While the mission would pay those who were general workers, "they would not pay the co-workers, the pastors," Sibisi said.

These co-workers would need to live off their volunteer work, despite the mission receiving "donations left, right and centre" which were aimed at uplifting the community.

When aQuellé started, Sibisi said, their parents were told that since they had worked at the mission for so long, they would receive dividends from the company.

Sibisi said they were told their "lives would get better", but "it never happened".

He explained that they had to apply for funding from NSFAS despite "our parents… sitting in these entities as trustees and directors".

Sibisi said:

Our parents understood they were there only on a representative capacity, so they sit in aQuellé as a director, they sit in board meetings at aQuellé, here's the bank statements being read out – how much money was being made – it's all considered KwaSizabantu Mission's money.

42 children expelled

Sibisi also recalled that the mission's school expelled 42 children in one go in 2010, including Sibisi's younger sister and two cousins, for seemingly not showing "excitement" for school.

He said he and others approached lawyers, the KwaZulu-Natal legislature and the provincial executive committee but their action prompted no reaction from the mission.

It wasn't until Sibisi and his team threatened legal action that KwaSizabantu responded and reinstated the children.

Sibisi, who also implicated leaders of KwaSizabantu in abuse, said they must account for their actions, regardless of when the alleged abuse happened.

"The one thing that the mission will fight you on is accountability… if you ask them to account, they will come out guns blazing," Sibisi said.

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