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 and watch our full series, click here: Exodus | Uncovering a cult in KwaZulu-Natal
A bearded Koos Greeff arrived at KwaSizabantu over 40 years ago, his thick hair styled in a Beatles haircut and his hands itching to do God's work.
But he left a grey and disillusioned apartheid government mole on the dawn of democracy, the year he said members of the "old South Africa moved in" at the mission.
"I am deeply ashamed," Greeff said of acting as an informant for the state while working as a missionary at KwaSizabantu, a haven he described as "such a gentle, friendly place" when he had arrived there.
Once considered a trusted subordinate of Erlo Stegen, it’s been years since the two have spoken following Greeff turning his back on the mission 26 years ago.
But his guilt remains, he maintained.
The son of a wine farmer, Greeff arrived at KwaSizabantu in 1977 after hearing Stegen preach in Stellenbosch.
"Erlo is a brilliant speaker, an orator," Greeff recalled. "And his thought process is linear - a child can understand what he says."
He spoke with admiration of the then sprightly and imposing mission leader, whom he had witnessed preach for two hours to an enthralled audience of 7 000 people.
He had wanted to go into ministry and had travelled to then Zululand by train. He hitchhiked the rest of the way, wearing a big blue army jacket emblazoned with the words "Turn or Burn".
The first Afrikaans-speaking person to join KwaSizabantu, he became a missionary farmer after deciding three weeks into his visit to stay permanently.
Initially enamoured by the friendliness and acceptance he experienced there, Greeff now refers to his reception as "love bombing", a term used for the practice of showering excessive affection and attention to gain control or significantly influence someone’s behaviour.
'We were poor'
In the early years, the mission consisted of 10 hectares of land which housed two unpainted, dilapidated buildings, Greeff remembered.
"We cooked outside on black pots under a reed hut. And we worked very hard - all of us. No salaries, no holidays."
He had offered Stegen his farming knowledge and expertise, promising to work for free. Within five years, he had established a dairy herd, a vegetable farm and a number of other agricultural projects.
"We were poor. But it was very enriching to establish something that I felt I did for God."
But at KwaSizabantu, Stegen was in charge of everything. "He was the sole proprietor," Greeff said.
"You're building the kingdom of God, you must remember that. So you don’t look closer at the management structure [of the mission]. You don’t ask questions like who controls the books, why is there no trust meeting, why is there no church council."
'Police didn't like us'
In those years, KwaSizabantu was a strange place, because there was "very little apartheid", Greeff recalled.
"Because of that, the security police didn't like us," he told News24.
"Suddenly there would be a police vehicle pitching up at the mission. Three, four white policemen would just get out and start walking around, look at everything and not say a word, get back into the Land Rover, bakkie or car and drive off. It was intimidating."
In 1981, Greeff was called up to a military camp at the then Louis Botha Air Force Base in Durban.
A few days thereafter, he was visited by a Greytown Security Branch lieutenant who asked Greeff to "work with him" as an informant and, in exchange, he would not be called up for military service again.
He said he approached Stegen, who took him to three elderly black women known at the mission as "The Mamas".
Greeff said The Mamas were prophetesses who Stegen called his "prayer warriors". In the mission's pyramid structure, they were below the "supreme leader".
He was part of the next tier: a group of men who acted as advisors to The Mamas, Greeff explained. They were, according to him, "the practical people" who met at least once a week to discuss what should be done at the mission.
'Little bits of info, here and there'
Greeff charged that The Mamas had instructed him to work with the security police as it could result in an end to the police harassment.
His association with the police saw him grow in standing, he recalled, and things changed for the better for him at the mission after he agreed to be an informant.
He would pass on "little bits of info, here and there" to the lieutenant. According to Greeff, it was "nothing major or special", but resulted in the end of the unexpected police visits.
Greeff claimed Lidia Dube, who today is Stegen’s right hand, had fed him information which he would pass on to the security police.
He would then point out the person to the authorities who had a file containing thousands of photos, as the "terrorists" used pseudonyms to protect their identities.
Greeff maintained he didn't know what would happen to the "undercover ANC operatives" once he had fingered them.
"I just pointed them out to the Security Police who would then remove them."
Among the people he was told to "keep an eye on" was the mother of Jacob Zuma, who at the time was the head of intelligence for Umkhonto we Sizwe.
"His mother lived in the Nkandla area, which is just down the valley from where KwaSizabantu is. According to their sources, she had actually attended some of the meetings held by co-workers."
He said he met a man named Tobie Vermaak from Military Intelligence (MI) in September 1984 when the chaplain general from the defence force visited the mission.
He was accompanied by Major Pieter van der Watt, the father of former resident Marietjie Bothma.
They immediately clicked, Greeff said. A month later, he started working for MI and Vermaak became his handler.
"We did 'lift' – as we called it those days - quite a number of ANC terrorists that came to Kwasizabantu, but it was now done via Tobie," he said.
And when SA "disintegrated" in 1994, Greeff said Vermaak and Van der Watt left the military and relocated to the mission.
"The old South Africa moved into KwaSizabantu."
That is also the year that Greeff and his family left the mission.
'Knew it wasn't God'
His disillusionment centred around a failed diamond mine on the farm Klipdam near Windsorton in the Northern Cape, in which the co-workers' pension had been invested, he said.
He had been asked to serve on the board and represent the co-workers, together with Greeff’s brother-in-law and father-in-law.
The venture, which later would also have included a fruit farm, failed.
"If I remember correctly, we lost R52 million," Greeff said.
And he was forced to answer to media queries "about this disaster" as he had served on the board.
Greeff said the money was invested because the workers, together with Christian investors and churches from all over Europe, had trusted Stegen.
But when it failed at the end of 1992, Greeff said he "knew it wasn't God".
"And then I started doubting KwaSizabantu.
"I slowly, gently eased out of my contact with military intelligence. And I lost my enthusiasm with KwaSizabantu and what they were doing. I just gently didn't trust them anymore.
"By the beginning of '94, I told them I had to leave. I couldn’t stay there anymore, I had to leave."
A friend sent a truck for their things and they left the mission.
"We didn’t know where we were going. We had no money. I didn't know where we would end up, but we left."
The family settled in Klawer, where Greeff initially bought old Land Cruisers which he stripped and sold as spare parts, while he did his Masters in theology and his wife her degree in teaching.
"[The mission] turned their backs on us and we had no contact with anybody," Greeff said.
"Towards the end of 1995, I felt so convicted about my involvement with MI that I asked for a meeting with the local [police] station commander, as well as the dominee of our congregation in Klawer. In this meeting, I clearly and openly told them all of my involvement," he said.
"Some time later, the station commander suggested that I write a full report for him to send to Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which I did. I made copies of this 26-page document and had it certified by the police.
"I sent a registered copy to Erlo Stegen personally, which he did receive as he responded to me. In a covering letter, I asked Erlo permission to allow me to come to KSB and address the whole congregation and confess my wrongdoing in public."
His request was refused, Greeff said.
Five years after leaving, he was unexpectedly approached by the media for comment regarding the relationship between the mission and military intelligence. Greeff said Vermaak had phoned him, just before he had been contacted by three journalists, "harshly" accusing him of leaking the information to the media.
He later wrote a statement on his involvement in KwaSizabantu after Stegen had refused to speak to him.
A few days later, Greeff claimed he received a phone call from a man who claimed to have repented during one of his services, asking why he had turned against KwaSizabantu.
He had denied that he had done this, and the caller said he had seen his daughter in Vredendal that day, "wearing a short little dress" and playing netball.
He received three similar sinister calls in total, he said. Friends of his in the police tracked it to a service station in Pretoria, and CCTV footage showed three mission members there, all known to him.
He threatened to sue and the phone calls stopped.
He had also submitted a report to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of what he had done for military intelligence, but had not been summoned to appear before the TRC.
He described what has happened to the mission over the years as "a spiritual regression" from a Christian organisation into a sect or cult.
Stegen gives off an impression of being an anchor, a "real source of stability and of wisdom", Greeff said.
"He sort of gently guides you to do his will. Then you are his favourite. And that's why I think I was his favorite for many years."
And questioning or confronting the "supreme leader" was simply unheard of.
Greeff claims he had once questioned a pricey purchase made by Stegen after being advised by experts that it was not a sound investment.
This person was a far cry from the man his wife Estelle – a niece of Stegen - described her uncle to be in his younger years: a welcoming man who played cricket with them and whom they loved, Greeff said.
He is still in contact with a number of KwaSizabantu residents. He and his wife would, once a year, visit her parents who for years had remained at the mission. The Greeffs, however, wouldn’t approach the people they knew there as this would land them in trouble, he said.
Greeff charged that those who worked at the mission were living in poverty. They earned a very small salary, he said, while Stegen has a holiday house in Ballito and Henties Bay, flying in a plane owned by the mission for go fishing on the coast.
"Most of them who work there don’t have pensions, cars, nothing. That is just not right. It is not right spiritually, but it is also not right legally, according to the constitution of KwaSizabantu that says profits made by the mission must be shared with the co-workers."
Instead, the workers were "like slaves".
Greeff said he feels responsible for what is happening at KwaSizabantu, as he was the one who "found the fountain on which aQuelle is built" during a hiking trip.
He said had informed Stegen of the "beautiful water" he had drunk there, and that a borehole had been drilled.
Stegen's version however disputes this, saying in a video sermon that the water bottling operation started after a child told him of a dream of "treasure hidden in the ground".
Greef said there were people living and working there that he had introduced to the mission.
"They went there because of me. I brought them there. And now they are tied, and they are in bondage, because of me. I feel guilty for that.
"So, I know that I can't make it right. But I can try.”
'They didn't know my mission'
The man who seemingly corroborated Greeff’s spy claims is Muziwendoda Kunene, a former KwaSizabantu choir conductor now serving a life sentence for murder.
"It’s true," he told News24 from Leeuwkop Correctional Centre in Sandton.
Kunene said he knows this because he himself was a spy.
"My presence at the mission wasn’t because I was a believer. I was on a political mission. I had been sent there by the African National Congress to observe what the mission was doing because there was suspicion that the SA government was actually using that place for its own ends under the guise of religion."
His mother had been a member of the mission’s church, he said, and his handlers had sent him there to determine whether their misgivings were true.
He had arrived at the mission in 1979 and left in 1995.
Lidia Dube, whose sister he had married but from who he had since divorced, had suspected “something” and used to refer to him as a communist, Kunene said.
"They didn't really know my mission until I was outside."
Kunene is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of KwaZulu-Natal estate agent Lynne Hume after he was convicted in 2009 alongside two co-accused.
He was also handed a 14-year sentence for the attempted murder of his son, who was to be to one of the State witnesses in his trial.
Mosebenziwenkosi Kunene was shot a month after Hume was killed.
Kunene maintains his innocence, saying he is in the process of preparing to appeal the judgment.
News24 forwarded detailed questions to KwaSizabantu, including whether Stegen and The Mamas had given their blessing for Greeff to feed information to military intelligence, as well as the millions allegedly lost in the failed diamond mine.
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 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".
In a follow-up request for comment, News24 sent another list of questions to KwaSizabantu on a range of claims, including Kunene seemingly corroborating Greef's spy claims.
In a blanket statement to all the questions, the mission said they "do not believe that by responding in the media, attempts by faction parties to constantly try and vilify the mission will stop".
Alluding to a "racially driven campaign by a small group of disgruntled and embittered white people who do not wish to see black people succeed", the mission said those speaking out were giving an "embellished story".
Read the mission's full responses to News24 here: 'A smear campaign' - KwaSizabantu's response to raft of allegations
News24 also attempted to reach Dube and Vermaak for their response.
When contacted by telephone, a woman named Lillian said she would pass on the message to Dube. During a follow-up call, Lillian said Dube declines to comment.
Vermaak told News24 he was not prepared to "answer any stories by Koos Greeff. I am not talking to the press".
Do you have a KwaSizabantu story to tell? Email us at email@example.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.