PODCAST | EXODUS Chapter 4: Revival

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PODCAST | EXODUS Chapter 4: Revival
PODCAST | EXODUS Chapter 4: Revival

This story is part of a seven-month News24 investigation into accusations of gross human rights violations, as well as alleged money laundering and sexual abuse at the KwaSizabantu Mission in KwaZulu-Natal. To read our full investigation, click here: Exodus | Uncovering a cult in KwaZulu-Natal

In the almost four weeks since we published our investigation into the KwaSizabantu mission in KwaZulu-Natal, News24 was able to bring to light allegations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of the mission's leaders and its members.

We also followed the money and found signs of possible financial irregularities.

The mission's leaders stand accused of syphoning off almost R150 million which is said to have been laundered over a period of three years.

Subsequently, floods of people have come forward to share their own memories of life at the mission.

Former members have described the mission as a "cult", where Christianity is used to justify abuse and congregants are constantly forced to repent for their sins, while alleged rapists and criminals walk free.

However, the mission's central figures Erlo Stegen, who is the founder, and Lidia Dube, Stegen's unofficial deputy and protégé, remain hidden.

In the final episode of Exodus, a four-part serialised podcast, we dig deeper into the mission's origins – we explore the supposed "pouring out of God's spirit" in Maphumulo, "the revival of the Zulus" and the resurrection of the dead.

Reverend Erlo Stegen.

Understanding Erlo Stegen 

Stories from Erlo's childhood are scarce. He was born in 1935 in KwaZulu-Natal and is the fourth of six children.

"[He was] a young man who has depended on God to guide him and teach him and that made us honour him," Erlo's younger brother, Manfred, tells us.

As a teenager Erlo spent many of his days visiting neighbouring homes and preaching the gospel.

"In the history of our family, there's never been a missionary or pastor or evangelist. It was something abnormal for us. But my parents never stood in his way. They encouraged him," Manfred adds.

Erlo's dedication to the gospel would lead him to Pretoria, where he trained as an evangelist.

He would return home and spend more than a decade doing missionary work in the rural parts of KZN. The year 1966 would be a turning point.

During a group prayer in a cowshed in Maphumulo, a sudden gust of wind blew and the shed began to shake.

At this point, Erlo believed the "spirit of God" descended on the area and "revival broke out" among the Zulu people.

In When God Came Down, a video testimony by Erlo, he details how after the "pouring out of God's spirit" multitudes of Zulu people came to him wanting to meet God.

These events would ultimately lead to Erlo's rebranding as a "messiah" and in a few years he would become acquainted with Lidia Dube, who's prophetic powers would make her Erlo's right hand. 


Finding freedom

Throughout the series, Erika Bornman and Celimpilo Malinga have been sharing their memories and experiences of their time at the mission.

They both moved to KwaSizabantu as adolescents.

In the late 80s, at the height of apartheid, the mission was positioned by its leaders as a nirvana, where residents could be free and be treated equally.

But as we have come to understand, that wasn't the case.

When we catch up with Malinga and Bornman in this episode, Malinga has already left the mission and is slowly building a new life for herself.

But for Bornman, it will take a few more years to escape the clutches of the mission.

If you missed episodes 1, 2 and 3 you can listen to it here:

Exodus is written and produced by Nokuthula Manyathi and Deon Wiggett.

Wiggett is also the creator of My Only Story - a four-part true-crime podcast and live investigation.

In it, Wiggett exposed Willem Breytenbach, a former Media24 executive, teacher and digital entrepreneur, as an alleged sexual predator. It was published in collaboration with News24 and has bagged a prestigious international award.

Wiggett won bronze in the Best Serialised Podcast category at the New York Festivals Radio Awards.

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 08:00 and 20:00 Monday to Saturday, phone 011 234 4837.
  • For a suicide emergency, call 0800 567 567.
  • For the 24-hour helpline, call 0800 456 789.

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

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