KwaSizabantu: Expelled for watching a DVD movie, commission hears

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KwaSizabantu was founded 50 years ago.
KwaSizabantu was founded 50 years ago.
Chanté Schatz
  • A woman testified that she was kicked out of KwaSizabantu Mission for watching a movie on DVD.
  • She said rules were strict and, if broken, were met with swift and decisive punishment.
  • She claimed to have knowledge of many instances of abuse and even a murder.

A woman testifying before the CRL Rights Commission has detailed allegations of mental, physical and sexual abuse at the KwaSizabantu Mission in KwaZulu-Natal, where she was expelled for watching a movie on DVD.

While her life began with strife and abuse, she found her way to the KwaSizabantu Mission in search of love, direction and guidance, but found the same abuse and pain she had previously suffered.

She cannot be identified to protect a rape victim mentioned in her testimony on Tuesday, but the woman has described horrific accounts of sexual abuse, lies and God complexes at the now infamous mission.

Her story began in 1990 when she fell on hard times and went to the mission, a place she felt could provide refuge and healing.

"My life before KwaSizabantu was anything but a good time. I come from a life of abuse. I was abused as a child and I was abused as an adult, it was very hard. I didn't know love or experience love or know what was happening to me at the mission – I just knew these people cared, so I gave it my all. Until one day, I made one mistake."

Don't hide what God created under your clothes

She recalled that, on one of her first days, she was taken to the house of a counsellor.

"At that time, I was wearing dresses, pants and make up. The counsellor asked her if God said anything to me the previous night.

"He told me that I did not like the way God made me because I am putting on make-up. He said that's why I am wearing pants, because you are hiding what God created under your clothes. He told me that perhaps it is better to change into a dress, and wash my face and bring all my make-up and pants."

ALSO READ | 'There are now too many of us to dismiss' - a woman's story of being 'cursed' by KwaSizabantu leader

But that was all she arrived with at the mission.

"I told myself that I was going to the mission and I must look my best. I took my make-up to the counsellor very eagerly, not knowing what he would do. He said I could leave it there. I never thought about it again until we had a fire service."

The fire service

A fire service served to get "rid of anything incumbering you in your faith".

"All my clothes and make-up were thrown into this fire. I was very disappointed. I never asked about the make-up again and gave up living with it. I did make sure every day I would confess everything in my mind and soul. If I looked at a man wrongly, I would confess my sins."

She worked in the KwaSizabantu kitchen, but was allegedly not paid.

"When you dish out, you are rich as a worker, you are really someone. I did that for many a year. Eventually, I was entrusted to work at the school. I did the sewing and mending at the school."

I regret I could not save my niece from KwaSizabantu

She said her biggest regret was her niece, who lived at the mission after her; she was allegedly raped.

She said her niece was accused of "having a spirit that breaks up marriages".

"She was left in the hospital at KwaSizabantu. The ones in hospital... have mental problems and are ill."

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

She said her niece was called to confess that she had a spirit that breaks up marriages.

"Every day, they would call her for hours on end and she had to confess, and they would accuse her of having a spirit. Eventually, they locked her up in a little room."

She said she was in contact with her niece during that period.

"She would call me and say she has to go to the aunties," she said, referring to the senior leaders at the mission.

"They would also take her phone away for a certain amount of time, and then have the phone for five minutes."

She said she felt personally responsible for letting her niece down.

"I tried my best to get her out, but did not have the financial means to get her out immediately. The mission says she is a liar and [that her rape] never happened. They don't know we were in contact the whole time."

And then, they made her leave

Her exit from the mission, like many before her have said, was brief and cold.

ALSO READ | 'A smear campaign' - KwaSizabantu's response to raft of allegations

She recalled in the early 2000s needing a foot operation in Pretoria. Prior to the operation, she house-sat for friends.

"They were going overseas and needed someone in their house. On their DVD shelf, they have a DVD called Pearl Harbour. This DVD was on the shelf and opened, so it had been watched already. They had their niece living with them. She said let's watch a DVD. I took the one on the shelf and watched it."

She then went to Pretoria for the operation and didn't think of confessing it "because I didn't think there was anything wrong with watching the DVD".

"There was nothing I thought was a sin. If you sin at the mission, if you said something about someone, you had to run to your counsellor and confess. If you didn't, they will call you and say someone else will confess your sin on your behalf."

Her fears of confession were not unfounded.

She said she was called into an office with the highest-ranking leaders of KwaSizabantu, including Erlo Stegen and Michael Ngubane, among others.

Here, they asked her if she had a confession, referring to the DVD she had watched.

"I had completely forgotten about that. I still wanted to confess it."

But she said it was too late, she was already ousted by Stegen.

"He said for 12 years you have been playing with God and your religion meant nothing. He said go away from me, I never want to see you ever again. It felt like God was chasing me away. Even today, I am not sure I will make it back to God, the fear makes me think God will never accept me again, and God will not accept me into heaven."

READ | What is a cult or sect? And what are the 'worrying signs'?

She said that, in the expulsion process, you are immediately isolated.

"When you are being chased away, no one will come talk to you. You have to leave immediately."

She claimed to have also been sexually abused "by one of the main leaders of the mission".

"Many things happened to me, I was sexually abused by Mr Kunene, I was sexually abused by him and other people at the mission.

"It brings about fear and shame in me. It changed me. When I got to the mission, I thought it was such a wonderful place. I was wrong. As long as you can do something for them and contribute to their work and add value to what they want, you are good."

She also claimed to have knowledge of a murder at the mission.

"In 2001, a young woman was murdered and raped at the mission. The sexual abuse has been going on for a long time, this is since 1990."

She also testified that she tried to alert leaders of the church when another member tried to sleep with her.

"They told me not to make a big thing out of it. They said that member was probably sleepwalking. I know she wanted to sleep with me, she got into my bed."

Child abuse was also allegedly witnessed.

"I saw children beaten, white children and black children. I saw a parent beat a child because they were a little bit cheeky. I was once told that in the mission we beat the child until the child is quiet, then we beat the child because they are naughty."

Public figures have been hoodwinked

She said public figures influenced by the mission had not seen the entire picture.

"The king [Goodwill Zwelithini] and KwaSizabantu are close. We literally bowed before the king. If [Prince Mangosuthu] Buthelezi comes, he gets treated to the best. No one sees what happens behind closed doors. It is unreal."

She said they also poorly remunerated people who worked at the compound.

"A teacher at the school at the moment earns R4 000 per month. They [leadership] become wealthy on the blood of normal people that work hard for them. The truth behind the matter is KwaSizabantu abuses the trust people put in you."

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