aQuellé to appoint multidisciplinary panel to investigate 'vicious' media allegations

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KwaSizabantu.
KwaSizabantu.
Chanté Schatz
  • In a letter addressed to its customers, aQuellé says it will appoint a panel consisting of legal, political, business and grassroots level individuals to investigate allegations published in a News24 exposé.
  • The letter, which was sent out on Monday, labels the reportage "sensational, vicious and [of a] factually inaccurate nature".
  • News24 published the result of a seven-month long investigation into allegations of gross human rights abuses and financial crimes at the mission, which led to retailers looking for answers from the water bottling company.

aQuellé has appointed an external panel to investigate allegations published in a News24 exposé over the weekend detailing allegations of gross human rights abuse and financial crimes at Mission KwaSizabantu (KSB), according to a letter sent to its retail customers on Monday.

DOCUMENTARY | EXODUS: Uncovering a cult in KwaZulu-Natal

The letter, which News24 has seen, includes the names of aQuellé's directors Erlo Stegen and Lidia Dube who are also implicated in allegations.

aQuellé called News24's exposé "sensational, vicious and [of a] factually inaccurate nature".

"This is not the first time false stories have been spread about the mission. The mission has always believed that turning to the courts is not the avenue of choice to stop the spread of false stories which undo the good work.

READ | Woolworths halts buying from a supplier owned by KwaSizabantu

"However, given the severity of this attack, we have appointed an external committee consisting of legal, political, business and grassroots level individuals to investigate the allegations and publish their findings," the letter said.

News24 published the result of a seven-month long investigation into allegations of rape and abuse at the mission over the weekend, as well as allegations of financial crimes to benefit the mission's leaders, which are currently being investigated by the Hawks.

The allegations led to retailers demanding answers from the mission.

aQuellé, however, defended KwaSizabantu Mission as an "evangelical organisation with good relations and complete openness to other churches and organisations".

Cult

"The mission teaches no new doctrine and does not believe that it has exclusive ownership of the truth".

It further denied that KSB was a 'cult', saying, while a cult aimedto benefit from an individual or group of people, the mission aimed to "uplift society".

"aQuellé and Emseni Farming are income-generating businesses started by KwaSizabantu Mission to sustain the good work started over 50 years ago.

"Funds generated directly support the mission's activities and have been used to assist countless people across our country with food, aQuellé products, sponsorship and donations to charities.

"The mission is a totally different place to the one described by these vindictive people in the media exposé".

The mission had also hosted many people free of charge, without charging for rent, electricity or water and employed more than 1 300 people from the community, the letter says.

ALSO READ | KwaSizabantu 'cult': KZN social development dept vows to follow up on allegations

It had also ran a programme for drug and alcohol abuse for more than 10 years, offering assistance, food and accommodation to over 18 500 addicts over the years.

"The mission sustains a community radio station which has operated for 25 years and continues doing good and uplifts the rural community of KZN. It hosts a school started over 30 years ago, a teachers' college of education and supports them through funds and bursaries," the letter said.

It further invited their customers to visit the mission to "see for yourself that the allegations against the mission are unfounded".

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article and you need someone to talk to, please contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) on one of these numbers:

•        To speak to a counsellor between 8am and 8pm Monday to Saturday, phone 011 234 4837

•        For a suicidal emergency, call 0800 567 567

•        For the 24-hour helpline, call 0800 456 789.

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