KwaSizabantu: 'I only got love from the mission' - Hannah Pretorius contests sister's allegations

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KwaSizabantu Mission has been embroiled in several allegations.
KwaSizabantu Mission has been embroiled in several allegations.
  • Hannah Pretorius, a KwaSizabantu mission resident and sister of Erika Bornman, an alleged victim of abuse, rubbished claims made against the church.
  • She said many claims by her sister in the News24 Exodus investigative documentary were false.
  • She said their childhood and early lives were filled with hope and joy.

Hannah Pretorius, the sister of Erika Bornman - who provided one of News24's main testimonies in the Exodus investigative documentary - said her family was always treated well and that the KwaSizabantu Mission only helped them.

She sat before the CRL Rights Commission in Durban on Thursday, where testimonies on the embattled mission were taking place this week.

Her emotional testimony painted a picture of a loving family home, excellent parents and the freedom to do whatever they chose as children.

Pretorius was open about her early childhood life, highlighting challenges she experienced while schooling in Malawi, saying she could not understand her sister's allegations.

Bornman levelled several allegations against the KwaSizabantu Mission, saying she was sexually assaulted and that, despite reporting the matter to church leader Erlo Stegen, no action was taken.

She made her statement under oath which News24 based its reporting on.

ALSO READ | KwaSizabantu: Expelled for watching a DVD movie, commission hears

Bornman, like many others who had spoken out on the mission, alleged there was racism and sexism at the mission, saying her mother introduced terror into her life when they moved to KwaSizabantu Mission.

Pretorius, who was accompanied by their mother and her own family, said it was possible she perceived her experiences differently. 

Instances of pain in childhood

She outlined instances from her childhood that instilled deep fear in her, including a story about how a male teacher bent her over an entire classroom, lifted up her skirt and hit her with a cane.

She also shared a story about how another teacher, who got angry at her for not achieving higher marks in school, hit her on her hands.

"I'm telling you these stories [about teacher experiences] because I'm sure everyone has these stories. I did not blame the institution. I think it was well meaning, except for the male teacher, the other was not evil."

Pretorius said she was shocked when hearing her sister's statement on News24.

"When Erika spoke about [her] terror, it shook me to my core. I had to stop and control myself and had to think, 'where does this darkness come from, where does this horror come from?' It was not from the mission in my experience. I only got love from the mission."

Her testimony of the mission was the opposite of her sister's, with Pretorius saying at one point: "I realised I was taking it [the mission] for granted in many ways."

"I have experienced where people have challenged me to better myself," she said of the mission.

She said women were not held back at KwaSizabantu.

"As a woman, I have an opinion and express it and freely be myself. It was never this terror Erika says she experienced. The second point I want to make is, my heart breaks for Erika, she's my sister. My brother and I would fight, but especially as Erika got older, I felt she is almost my best friend."

Pretorius said Bornman's statement on their family was strange to her.

"She speaks about our family in the Exodus video in a way I do not know."

READ | 'Working for God' but put through hell - ex-workers cry foul

She also disputed Bornman's account of her clothes being burned in a fire. She said that while the clothes were burned, they were asleep. 

"Erika talks about burning of clothes my mum burnt. She didn't do what Erika said. Erika says she went into the cupboard and took her pants and there was a smell. I lived in the same room as Erika, it did not happen. While sleeping, my mum took the clothes and burnt it. That is true, but what Erika says about the smell and neighbours, that is not reality."

Our home life growing up was good

She said that the home life that she and Bornman experienced was positive. She said her parents never censored her sister.

"My parents never censored my reading or Erika's; we were let loose in libraries, we would be there early in the morning and race home and read as much as I could so I could exchange the book so I could get more.

"I always found it strange when people didn't have books in their homes. At home we could have robust debates and discussions over the dinner table."

Pretorius also rubbished allegations that her daughter Louise had been kidnapped by the church.

"She is here, you can ask her. That never happened."

She said the church and Stegen only helped her. She said that when her daughter experienced an addiction to electronic devices, he was encouraging.

"I often went to Reverend Stegen and cried there and they were the ones who taught me as a mother, [to] love your child unconditionally. Not once did they say 'tell her to go, she needs to repent and give her a hiding'. They said 'love your child'. When I said I cannot take it any further, Stegen said, 'love your child'."

She also criticised News24 for playing an interview with her former counsellor Muzi Kunene, the man who allegedly sexually abused Bornman.

"It [the interview with Kunene] was rubbish."

Pretorius maintained the church was always a place of peace and solace.

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

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