'Some of that happened to me too' – journalist Sipho Hlongwane on growing up at KwaSizabantu

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News24
  • Journalist and columnist Sipho Hlongwane on Monday shared his own memories of life at KwaSizabantu in an interview on CapeTalk.
  • He said he believed that there would never be an apology or justice for what they had been through.
  • He called for the mission to "live according to what they told us, to live their own words".


"When people say this or that happened to me [at KwaSizabantu] – yes it did. I believe them. Some of that happened to me too."

This is according to journalist and columnist Sipho Hlongwane, who on Monday told CapeTalk of his own memories at the KwaZulu-Natal mission, including severe beatings and psychological trauma "that is put to you through the use of the word of God".

Hlongwane told Midday Report host Lester Kiewit that he had not yet finished watching Exodus, News24's documentary on KwaSizabantu, as he found it difficult to relive some of his own childhood experiences.

READ | More allegations mount, but KwaSizabantu says virginity testing stopped in 2002

"It's having your absolute worst fears and experiences suddenly in front of the whole world. It's not a pleasant experience in the slightest," he said.

"But watching people not believe us, not believe the people who are telling their stories, I am very angry about that, I won't lie. But I am a journalist. I have seen this happen with other people's stories that I have told before.

"So I know that convincing the public is a big thing, it's part of the journey. I hope that by speaking out now, those who have their doubts will take it from me - the stories are true."

News24, after a seven-month investigation, revealed allegations of gross violations of human rights and alleged money laundering at one of Africa's biggest missions, founded 50 years ago in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

READ | Exodus: Uncovering sexual crimes and missing millions at a KZN 'cult'

This has resulted in a flood of personal accounts from other former mission members sharing their own traumatic experiences at one of the biggest mission stations on the continent.

Denial

News24 recently reported on the alleged experiences of six women, who claim to have been raped, sexually abused, molested or assaulted at the mission as far back as the 1980s.

Koos Greeff, a once-respected leader at the mission, said he had acted as an informant for the apartheid government's Military Intelligence and Security Branch with the blessing of the KwaSizabantu leadership.

His alleged handler had moved to the mission in 1994.

READ | aQuellé pulled off shelves at Makro, Game, as Food Lover's cuts ties with KwaSizabantu companies

The Hawks also confirmed to News24 that the Pietermaritzburg serious commercial crimes unit was investigating the allegations of fraud at KwaSizabantu.

The mission has labelled the allegations levelled against it as a smear campaign.

Hlongwane, a former head prefect who was born and raised at KwaSizabantu, urged those who have read the accounts to also read the mission's response. He said:

"Compare the two. Compare how detailed the stories of these victims are, compare how passionately those people speak. Look at the fear that people still have, some having left the mission decades ago. These people have palpable fear up until today. And then look at the denial. Look how flimsy and flippant that denial is."

He believes that there will never be an apology or justice for what they have been through.

"I have now finally come to the place where I have realised there's no sorry here for these destroyed lives I see. That is going to take me a while to work through that one."

His parents still live at KwaSizabantu, while he says he left after he found employment. Nevertheless, he recalled going through "an incredible amount of pressure not to leave".

'Live their own words'

According to him, the general attitude to the allegations are "denial, one of minimalisation, saying that it wasn't that bad".

"What kind of person can say I am making that choice, when the choice on the one hand is obeying, but on the other hand, not only do you get beaten, but you may lose everything: your job, your family, your mind? That happens to people who leave there. The price of leaving is extreme, and then you are telling me I am making a free choice there. No, of course not."

He called for the mission to "live according to what they told us, to live their own words".

"I am saying to all of these people now, enough with the denials. Enough with telling us that nothing happened. In the same way they always said to us, we must account for our sins, they said that we must walk in the light that we must walk before God."

He added:  "I want all of these people to look at the trauma they caused, to look at all the stories that are coming out, people who are retraumatised today, and I want them to account for this."

He described KwaSizabantu as a place "completely separate form the rest of the world".

"Saying you believe the doctrine and the practices is beside the point. This was my entire childhood, there was nothing else to believe, there was nothing else to know," he said.

"The stories about what goes on at KwaSizabantu that you have seen on News24, and that will still come out, are true. Don't comfort yourself that something like this couldn't possibly happen, and everyone just looks away.

"It did. And they did all just look away."

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