The KwaSizabantu Mission, which is facing allegations of human rights abuse and money laundering, has strongly denied the accusations, saying it has never been a cult.
This comes after several major retailers cut ties with suppliers linked to the mission following allegations that some followers living at the mission had been abused, with some women claiming to have been raped while living there.
In a statement sent to stakeholders and the media on Wednesday, the KwaSizabantu Mission said it was shocked by the allegations.
“From the onset, we deny the allegations in the strongest possible way. They are incorrect, hurtful and damaging.
“Further to this, we are engaging with law enforcement agencies to bring to book those engaged in the vicious false allegations,” the mission said.
The mission, which is based in Kranskop, northern KwaZulu-Natal, owns the Ekhamanzi Springs which produces aQuellé bottled water and an agricultural business that supplies major retailers with vegetables.
On Tuesday, the troubles of the KwaSizabantu Mission took a turn for the worse when the country’s major food retailers Spar, Woolworths and Massmart, announced that they were suspending orders from suppliers linked to the mission.
'We didn’t come here to enrich ourselves but are here because we want to serve the Lord. We view whatever is happening as a test which the Lord is putting us through.'
The response by KwaSizabantu Mission businesses’ customers has sparked fears that the companies might be forced to fold, a situation that could result in job losses and more economic woes for a province hard hit by Covid-19. While the mission’s troubles have a direct impact on high profile sporting events such as the Midmar Mile which is sponsored by aQuellé, local supermarkets affiliated to Spar, Woolworths and Massmart were unlikely to be directly affected.
“Issues around the sourcing of stock are handled by the franchisor, which has a wider network of suppliers in the province and the Midlands. It’s highly unlikely that the decision to suspend KwaSizabantu orders would result in stock shortages,” a franchisee in the Pietermaritzburg CBD said.
Despite the possible job losses as a result of the boycott, workers at KwaSizabantu businesses that employ hundreds of people said they were not spending sleepless nights over the matter.
“We didn’t come here to enrich ourselves but are here because we want to serve the Lord. We view whatever is happening as a test which the Lord is putting us through.
“As long as we are on the side of the Lord we will overcome whatever challenges are thrown at us,” an employee who has been working for Ekhamanzi Springs for seven years said.
A source familiar with the mission told The Witness that the success of the mission’s businesses was largely due to the fact that almost all the employees are the church’s followers. “Are extremely dedicated, honest and disciplined. If for any reason an employee is unable to give his or her best, they feel the pressure to go and talk to one of the church’s counsellors and confess that there is something blocking them from paying undivided attention to the Lord’s work,” the source said.
The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) is currently probing the mission, while Police Minister Bheki Cele has announced that police were already looking into the allegations made against the church.
In a statement to customers and stakeholders, the mission also announced that it had instituted an independent probe into the allegations.