Exodus | 'I didn't even know what rape was' - attacked and raped in a sugarcane field at age 15

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It's been 25 years since Chantal Engelbrecht and her husband David left KwaSizabantu.
It's been 25 years since Chantal Engelbrecht and her husband David left KwaSizabantu.
Chanté Schatz

This story is part of a seven-month News24 investigation into accusations of gross human rights violations, alleged money laundering and turning a blind eye to sexual abuse. To read our full series, click here: Exodus | Uncovering a cult in KwaZulu-Natal

In the sugarcane fields of the Stegen family farm, Chantal Engelbrecht alleged she was raped by a fellow mission member before she had even turned 16.

Over 30 years after the first attack, she reported her ordeal to the police in 2019.

She hopes for justice, which she said she was denied when Erlo Stegen, the mission leader, told her not to speak about what had happened to her.

Engelbrecht, 50, now a teacher in Ballito, is Erlo Stegen's niece. Her mother is the mission leader's sister.

But she claims her uncle showed her no familial loyalty when she reported what her attacker had done to her. 

Her family’s existence had those years revolved around the mission, she said. Although they lived in the rural town of Wartburg and not at KwaSizabantu, her friends and relatives were all members.

The young people would meet at Paardefontein and go for walks or simply enjoy the freedom. During one of their get-togethers, she accepted an invitation for a ride on her attacker's motorbike that day, which she can only recall as being prior to August 1985.

The young man who allegedly raped her was a distant relative. His victim had not yet turned 16.

"I had never had the act of sex discussed or explained to me as a child at the mission. What happened to me was totally foreign. I did not quite know what had happened," she said.

"It was the mission's policy that sex and its consequences were explained to couples on their wedding night."

Suspecting that what he had done to her was something "wrong", Chantal said she followed the mission's confession policy and told her counsellor.

He, however, was unmarried and ignorant of matters relating to sex, referring her to her Uncle Erlo.

Her attacker - who, like Chantal, lived off-site - heard she was going to speak to the head of the mission, she said. He had gone to speak to Stegen's right-hand, Lidia Dube, that same day.

She said:

Erlo's response to my confession was two-fold: don't tell anybody, not even your parents, what had happened; and it's your fault as you are the whore and the prostitute. When he called me that, I went and looked it up. I didn't even know what it was. It hurt me very much and worried me, because that wasn't what I was.

To her knowledge, her attacker faced no consequences, and no attempt was made to inform the authorities of what had happened.

Chantal said the rape was the first of many, the start of an ordeal which lasted for years.

"It became a continuous thing. He didn’t stop - he carried on with me, every opportunity he got. I had no recourse. I couldn't even tell my parents."

The only person she had told was her now husband, David.

A nephew of Stegen's wife Kay, David had first met Chantal when he was 14-years-old and had been in love ever since.

Their hometown of Wartburg was small, and Chantal's family and the Engelbrechts had inevitably become friends.

In 1993, young David had gone to Stegen to ask for permission to marry Chantal, as was mission policy.

"[Acting on feelings for a girl] wasn't allowed by KwaSizabantu. I couldn't tell her how I felt. But I just knew, even at that stage, that she was one day going to be my wife."

He was 20 when he approached Stegen, saying he wanted to marry his niece.

Stegen, however, refused, claiming that he had "heard rumours" that they had not followed protocol as they had been in a secret relationship.

"He said I should wait. I did."

Two years later, he returned to Stegen, still determined to make Chantall his wife.

"I said I had waited, but that I still felt I wanted to marry her."

It's been 25 years since Chantal Engelbrecht and h
It's been 25 years since Chantal Engelbrecht and her husband David left KwaSizabantu.

Stegen had ostensibly consulted the mission leadership and refused his request. He had also saw it fit to tell David that Chantal was not a virgin, but not that she had been raped.

Chantal, too, told him that she was not "pure".

"She told me she was not good enough and that I should find someone else."

But to him, it didn't change how he felt.

He had decided they would marry without the mission's permission. 

But Chantal had turned her back on KwaSizabantu before she and David were engaged.

'Condemned to hell'

This, after she was removed by Stegen from the list of people allowed to be baptised.

Baptism is allowed after a stringent process which includes the confession of all sin and the approval of a counsellor. Stegen, however, had the final say, she explained.

They had been taught that those who go through the water with unconfessed sin would "come out paralysed and blind", Chantal said.

After a childhood of being "condemned to hell", she maintained she had done everything right according to the mission's teachings.

She believed being raped is what made her uncle decide she wasn't worthy of being baptised.

"My world fell apart. Surely, I was forgiven for what happened to me. Isn’t that what the Bible teaches?"

She told her parents she no longer wanted to go back to the mission.

Her father, whom Chantal lovingly described as an "outlaw" at KwaSizabantu, accepted her decision.

He had married into the Stegen family, but was known to question the leadership. This, his daughter said, was frowned upon and made him unpopular.

She said:

It used to make me cringe. If only we had listened to him...

Chantal's parents gave David their blessing to marry their daughter. Because of this, they were kicked out of the church.

David's family, however, turned their back on him after he was ex-communicated, leaving him jobless as he had worked in the family business.

David today calls KwaSizabantu a "pit of hell", ruled with fear, manipulation and intimidation. 

The mission, however, is still home to his parents and three sisters.

Chantal said she had lost her faith after deciding to leave the mission.

"My life had been one of fear. At KwaSizabantu, we were never taught there was forgiveness, salvation, once you accepted Christ in your life as your Lord and Saviour," she said.

They only heard of "hell and damnation" and that sinners would be condemned.

"It's so hypocritical. We pretend to have this fantastic life. But it's just pretence. We were so indoctrinated by these people that we didn't even think for ourselves. We were robots."

Chantal laid a rape charge with her local police in November last year.

"I want people to know what a terrible person he is," Chantal said. 

"I feel there must be some form of justice. I kept quiet for a long time. He is now married with children - who would be hurt more, him or his family? It was a difficult decision but I eventually decided that it’s time."

She is aware that it is a difficult case to prove, as it had happened over 30 years ago. 

"I am being told to consider the civil route, but this is not about money," she insisted.

After her marriage, she had gone to the mission and confronted Stegen about how he had responded to what had happened to her.

"He told me that if it hurt me, he was sorry," Chantal said.

She continued:

I didn’t even know what rape was, that I could say no. Only now that I am 50, I am starting to work through my emotions.

News24 attempted to obtain comment from Stegen on, among others, why Chantal was allegedly told not to tell anyone about being raped as well as the reason that the incident had not been reported to police.

Despite a detailed list of questions on each of the former members' claims, KwaSizabantu in a blanket, unsigned statement said the various allegations "relate mostly to private family matters".

The mission said that it would "respect the privacy" of those involved.

"As much as you are implying that the mission is responsible for every incident involving its congregation, we can assure you that we strive to always act within the prescripts of the law," the statement reads.

The mission said they "doubt the authenticity and motives behind many of the charges", saying they had been approached for comment by others "on essentially the same issues".

"It smacks of a smear campaign rather than a genuine search for justice," it said, adding that it "welcomes any police investigation into any of the allegations".

Read the mission's full responses to News24 here: 'A smear campaign' - KwaSizabantu's response to raft of allegations

News24 attempted to reach Dube by telephone. A woman, identified as Lillian, initially said Dube was in a meeting and later that she did not want to comment on any of the claims made.

It's been 25 years since Chantal and David left KwaSizabantu. They have a strained relationship with their family at the mission, who only make contact for family news such as weddings and funerals.

But she wishes she had left there earlier.

"I think our lives only started after the mission. We started going to church and understanding the Bible - all of it, and not just the messages they had wanted us to hear.

"I later studied books in the Bible, specifically related to God's love. I now know I have a heavenly father who loves me unconditionally," she said.

"I used to have an image of Him sitting on a throne with a rod, wanting to poke or punish me. But He loves me. I don't have to live condemned anymore."

Do you have a KwaSizabantu story to tell? Email us at exodus@24.com.

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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