News24 documentary 'portrays opposite of values KwaSizabantu stand for and represent'

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KwaSizabantu was founded 50 years ago.
KwaSizabantu was founded 50 years ago.
Chanté Schatz
  • Ruth Combrink, one of the leaders at KwaSizabantu, said News24's documentary Exodus portrays "the opposite of the values that we stand for and that we represent".
  • It has, in an about-turn, urged those who have levelled allegations of human rights abuses against them to share their "grievances" to "ensure that their story is told and that justice may be served".
  • An independent legal panel has been appointed by the mission to investigate the allegations.

In an about-turn on Thursday, KwaSizabantu Mission urged those who have levelled allegations of human rights abuses against them, to share their "grievances" with an independent legal panel it has appointed "to ensure that their story is told and that justice may be served".

This comes weeks after it initially dismissed the stories published as part of News24's seven month investigation into allegations of sexual abuse, physical violence, impropriety, virginity testing, racism and patriarchy as "a smear campaign".

"It is our absolute intention to work to rectify any proven wrongs and we are committed to taking whatever actions are necessary to bring restorations within these circumstances," said Ruth Combrink, a leader at the mission.

READ | More allegations mount, but KwaSizabantu says virginity testing stopped in 2002

She's the daughter of KwaSizabantu founder Erlo Stegen and the general manager of aQuelle, owned by Ekhamanzi Springs, of which her father was one of the owners.

Today, a multibillion-rand establishment, KwaSizabantu faced a fallout across its mission's arms, as a boycott of aQuellé continued.

Massmart Holdings, owner of Makro, pulled aQuelle from its shelves following News24’s series, while Pick n Pay told Business Insider it had asked the supplier for answers to the allegations.

Ceased 

Last week, Woolworths confirmed it had "ceased all orders with Emseni Farming" - a vegetable supplier owned by the mission - while it awaited further information from the supplier.

Six women shared claims of being raped, sexually abused, molested or assaulted at one of the continent's biggest mission stations, in incidents dating as far back as the 1980s.

This resulted in a flood of people sharing their own stories and memories of life at the KwaZulu-Natal mission station.

In addition, one of KwaSizabantu's once-respected leaders said he had acted as a mole for the apartheid government's Military Intelligence and Security Branch - with the blessing of the mission's leadership. His alleged handler now lived at the mission, having moved in at the dawn of democracy in 1994.

READ | aQuellé pulled off shelves at Makro, Game, as Food Lover's cuts ties with KwaSizabantu companies

Combrink, in a media briefing on Thursday, said News24's documentary, Exodus, portrayed "the opposite of the values that we stand for and that we represent".

"Therefore, an independent legal panel has been appointed to investigate allegations and to provide an independent report on the matters that have been raised."

Cases

She said the mission hoped News24 would "assist us to facilitate this on behalf of all those named in the programme" so that they "get their cases heard and restitution is achieved".

The mission had also prepared submissions for the panel "providing evidence and affidavits regarding the allegations" to also be published on its website.

READ | CRL Rights Commission launches official probe, urges former members to come forward

"To this end, we open our hearts to everybody, including our retail clients, to reassure them of our commitment to transparency and to upholding of strong ethical values and morals that we are renowned for.

"We want to do all in our power to give everyone peace of mind, both in SA and abroad."

Combrink said the mission at all times "seeks to be obedient to Jesus and his revelations in the scripture".

She added:

This includes that every person is of infinite value and worth and must be treated accordingly. Where this does not happen, it must be properly dealt with. Obviously this, by definition, makes violence against women and children totally unacceptable. The purpose of the work is to uplift and not to destroy.

"The leadership and the entire community of the mission take the engagements regarding incidents of abuse very, very seriously. Our hearts bleed for any individual who has experienced the trauma and pain of abuse - this is closer to our hearts than many can imagine.

"We offer them our support and invite them to reach out to us in this regard."

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