The Witness has received a flood of letters to the editor from people who are detailing their defence of the KwaSizabantu Mission and positive experiences they’ve had there.
Here is a selection of them.
PEACE OF THE MISSION TOUCHED US DEEPLY
We have known KwaSizabantu for a long time and approximately a year ago we went to visit the mission. We were welcomed warmly.
Although everyone was busy, it was wonderful to see how everything was done in peace and with such patience. Also, time was made for us and our children so they could make many new acquaintances.
Because of the many branches and projects that have been started there, so many work opportunities have been created for the community around the mission as well.
Above all, the peaceful atmosphere touched us deeply. It is our wish that this work will carry on for a long time and that through God’s grace many people will be helped.
MARKUS, SUSANNE WIESE AND OUR CHILDREN
• A similar letter was received from Christoph and Annegret Zachmann, from Grosserlach, Germany.
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO BE HEARD?
When will you hear me?
Do I need to be rich and famous before I can have an audience? In today’s terms, maybe the qualification I am required to have to air my voice is to tell a sensational fiction, mix it with a few strands of true-life events and claim it to be my own survival story.
Today, in terms of the world around me, it is not enough that I lead an honest and transparent life. It is not enough that I choose what is right over what is popular. It is not enough that I choose to spend my life for others and love them. It is not enough that I remain pure, abstaining from the moral degradation and social ills that are the norm in society. For the world, I do not qualify to have my voice heard.
What will it take to be heard?
In terms of the world, I must be some celebrity, rich and famous. I must have ditched at least two husbands, be hitched to a third, have children with several different surnames and dump them with their grandmother so I can do what I want, when I want. I must put on a fake smile, plaster my face to hide the lines of worry, to become the person I know I will never be and hide the person I actually am. I must appear in skinny jeans revealing every curve of my body; I must wear the lowest-cut top to compel the eyes of others away from possibly seeing the true agony which reflects in my eyes.
If these are the qualifications, I choose to remain unqualified but will no longer remain silent. I refuse to lower my standards and the standards of Christ to be accepted by the world.
Who am I? My name is Anita van der Watt. I am 38 years old and I am a born-again child of God. I completed Grade 12 at Domino Servite School in 2001. I am a qualified, non-practising social worker. In 2012, I completed a post-graduate qualification in teaching. I have made my own choice to dedicate my life to the service of Christ in the ministry of KwaSizabantu. I am the only biological relation to Marietjie Bothma. I am her sister.
What has KwaSizabantu done to me?
I have lived on KwaSizabantu Mission since 1986, since I was four years old. Throughout the past 34 years, KwaSizabantu has only ever sought to do what is right and honourable in the sight of God. This is my home and my life. It is through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the message of revival at KwaSizabantu, that I came to know Christ as my personal saviour. I found true liberty and freedom at KwaSizabantu. I have never witnessed any leader at the mission physically, sexually or emotionally abusing anyone. The mission people have never oppressed me. The mission has never forced me to confess my sins. The mission has never subjected me to virginity testing. The mission has never locked me up and deprived me of food as a form of punishment. The mission has never told me what I ought to wear. I will not repeat all the allegations that have been hurled so viciously at the mission for they are well publicised on various platforms. I only speak out so that every person who reads this, takes into consideration that there is another side — the truth. I do not hate those who so maliciously seek to destroy the work of God. I pity them. I pray for them.
ANITA VAN DER WATT
KwaSizabantu, Jammerdal Farm
A PLACE WHERE PEOPLE ARE HELPED
It has been with growing horror and dismay that I have watched the home that I love being smeared as a disgusting torture house, and the people I respect and admire, vilified as abusers at the very least, and rapists and fear mongers at the most, over the past three weeks. I am compelled to set the record straight.
I wrote a letter to News24 on 29 September, trying to tell a part of my story, without success. And yet, letter after letter dissing KSB, not caring what would happen to the 1 500 souls who depend on the income they receive from there to survive, were printed. This is the reason I am making my letter public.
I would like to point out that I am a “victim” (as News24 so happily likes to paint us) of childhood sexual abuse. I was eight years old. A co-worker on the mission caught the man (a visitor to the mission) in the act of abusing me. She grabbed me and rushed me home. Suffice to say, the police were called and he was arrested.
Years later, when the trauma of what I had suffered finally exploded out of me, the person who was really there for me was Reverend Erlo Stegen. That man sat with me for hours, days, as I vented, wept and sorted through the mess of emotion and the aftermath. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today without him. He really listened to me, let me bare my soul, let me be angry, let me cry my eyes out, let me question where God was in all of this. He counselled me ever so gently, prayed with me. And he did it as often as I needed it. Apart from that, Uncle Erlo has done so much for me, I can never put it all into words or even attempt to repay him. And I’m just one of many. Honestly, I will go to the mat over that man.
An accusation has been levelled recently that everything looks great on a short visit, but it’s terrible once you live there. Well, I’ve been living here for 39 years. I attended Domino Servite School, where I received a top-class education. I went on to earn my degree, while gaining unbelievable work and life experiences. While it would be ridiculous to try to paint my childhood as all roses, I have been able to confront every past issue or hurt (because, unlike what has been portrayed, KSB actually does invite people with issues to come forward and they do something about it).
I really do have very happy memories of a carefree childhood.
Enough is enough. It’s time that everyone knows that much good comes from KSB. Lives have quite literally been saved. People have been freed from the bondage of drugs, alcohol abuse and even cigarette addiction. People come here hopeless, and leave filled with new life and purpose. Families have even been able to shelter here during difficult periods when their lives were in danger. KwaSizabantu was and remains, a place where people are helped.
A LOOK AT THE TWO LEGS OF THE MISSION
During recent testimonies to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) commission, the “two legs” of the mission were criticised. A video of this was published by News24 on the Internet.
I was dumbfounded as to what could be the logic behind dragging this into the whole “Exodus” debate. The “two legs” that are referred to are the confession of sin and the high standard of choosing the right marriage partner.
Let me first state that the main “leg” that the mission stands on is in my opinion neither one of the two but rather obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (and not Reverend Erlo Stegen, as many are believed to think). But for the argument let us evaluate these two legs.
Confession of sins or biblical counselling has always, through the ages, been one of the pillars of the Christian faith. Were great theologians throughout church history wrong to proclaim this great truth of counselling? Shall we bring the Roman Catholic Church into the debate because they teach that you need to confess your sins to a priest? What about countless ministers, pastors, priests and church leaders from many denominations who have helped believers in counselling to overcome their doubts, fears, failures and sins?
Shall we condemn all of these as not being private confessions to God alone? Now, in wise counselling when KwaSizabantu counsellors refer you back to God to seek answers from him for your problems, does that make them a cult?
The second “leg” is the (presumably?) cult-like arrangements of marriage. I bear witness to such a marriage, and no, it was not arranged by Reverend Stegen. Could it really be in our best interest to go the way of the world and be involved in one relationship after another?
What about the teachers in government schools? The only answer they have for teenagers is explicit sex education, condoms and abortions. Through all of this chaos we have to (thumbsuck) hope that one day we will make the right choice in a marriage partner and that on top of all the emotional baggage of previous relationships, somehow it will not end up in the divorce court.
Yes, we can trust God for our health, for our job, for everything else, but no, we cannot trust him for our marriage partner and avoid the hurt and shame of broken relationships. There is a much better way, a way in which both young men and young women in their obedience to God can ask him for his guidance in their marriage partner of his choice. We can trust God to make the perfect choice for us. Now, in wise counselling when KwaSizabantu counsellors refer you back to God to seek confirmation from him for your marriage partner, does that make them a cult?
Thank you, KwaSizabantu Mission for raising these standards for God and his kingdom in these evil degenerate times that we are living in.
GERHARD LE ROUX
• Letter shortened
MALICIOUS LIES AND SLANDER IN THE MEDIA
It is with alternating moments of hilarity and horror that I have read the absurd lies and malicious slander published about KwaSizabantu on News24 in the past few weeks.
News24 claims to have done a seven-month investigation before publishing this barrage of slander, when in fact it merely interviewed a handful of disgruntled individuals who basically shared their own reconstructed memories of events that happened 20 years ago or more.
I do give News24 and Adriaan Basson credit for the eloquence and professionalism with which they have published this fiction. The eerie music and dark and spooky re-enactments in the Exodus video portray convincingly an evil and cultic place. It has used ancient footage of the mission to portray it as a backward and seedy place. The problem is that the atmosphere portrayed on the “documentary”, podcasts and articles couldn’t be further removed from the real atmosphere at the mission on which I have lived for 29 years, which is my entire life.
I cannot help but ask myself what motive Mr Basson and company have for so maliciously slandering the good work done by KwaSizabantu, as well as mocking the founder of the mission, Rev Erlo Stegen (here I refer both to the Exodus video and specifically podcast number two). I also do not understand why News24 is so committed to only publishing one side of this story. Everything the mission now says or does gets coloured with words that have negative connotations.
Take for example the recent accusation that the mission “rolled out the red carpet” for government officials who came to inspect projects at the mission recently. As a young person who grew up at the mission, I can testify that is how the mission has always treated visitors.
Another strange accusation levelled at the mission by News24, is that of owning “multibillion rand” enterprises, as if that is a crime! The vision of Rev Stegen was that the mission should never beg for money but be self-sufficient. No collections are held at our services and we are never asked to donate money to the church. Rather, we are always on the receiving end: we stay on the premises at no cost, we don’t even pay for water and electricity. Whenever possible, food, water and seedlings are distributed to communities (including those not affiliated with the mission). In poor communities, who cannot afford to pay for funerals, the mission assists by making coffins, and providing transport and lunch for the hundreds attending — all at no cost. And this to families with no affiliation to the church. That is where the “millions” generated by KwaSizabantu Mission go.
The “millions” are used to transport, house and provide food bi-annually for 4 000 to 5 000 youngsters who attend a conference free of charge. Those who would like to attend are fetched from across KwaZulu-Natal in a series of bus trips that often take three days to complete. The mission carries the transport costs. The mission provides them with three free meals a day for the duration of the conference, which usually lasts a week. A sports day is also hosted for the youth. Once again, the mission bears all the costs.
The “millions” are also used to house and provide meals for hundreds of pastors from all denominations to attend a ministers conference every second year.
The “millions” are also used to give drug addicts new hope and life in Christ. Young people, up to 30 a day, arrive at the mission desperate to be free from drugs. From the time of their arrival until they leave, they are treated with love and dignity. At the mission they find acceptance and help.
I’ve witnessed alcohol, dagga and heroin addicts transformed by the power of the gospel. These young people receive free meals and free accommodation, and counsellors give them an ear for hours at a time, all at no cost.
As to the accusations of the mission being a cult. The teaching at KwaSizabantu is biblical, and anyone in doubt of this can verify it by listening to our live-streamed services which are archived and accessible on the mission’s website, or by reading the transcripts, also available on the website. KwaSizabantu mission has, through God’s help, been instrumental in healing many broken lives. Mr Basson and his team have no idea what kind of place it is they are trying so hard to destroy. I pray, for South Africa’s sake, that they do not succeed.
And no, no one asked or coerced me into writing this letter. I just found it difficult to remain silent in the face of the human rights abuses which I, my family, my church, and my community are now suffering.
• Letter shortened.
THREE-YEAR RESEARCH FINDINGS: KWASIZABANTU IS A PLACE OF GOOD
After a three-year, in-depth academic research project, one can only come to the conclusion that the KwaSizabantu Mission benefits many communities across South Africa in a big way.
Agricultural projects, together with educational and skills development opportunities, have supported thousands of people throughout its 50 years of existence. One stands amazed at the way the mission’s people have spent themselves tirelessly for the sake of others, including the way in which the mission has taken social rejects under its wings and has provided various skills development and educational opportunities to help them find their feet again in society. Surely the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities committee ought to take note of this and commend such outstanding work. The mission has set a high standard for other religious entities: it is a model for community upliftment.
During this time I have also investigated the various allegations made against the mission and found them to be non-factual and inaccurate. It would be a good thing for News24 to analyse carefully its own research methodology. You cannot do a thorough reporting job by interviewing only the dissenters of a place.
I can say with all honesty that those intending to discredit the mission as a cult, thereby aiming to destroy this place for their own selfish interests, have committed a great crime against humanity and against the Zulu nation. I commend the leadership of KwaSizabantu Mission for all the good it has done for communities. May the good work of KwaSizabantu Mission within the heartland of KZN prosper and grow from strength to strength! I think it is high time that we all buy aQuellé and Emseni produce to support this place.
DR E FLEISCHMANN
PhD, MEd, PGCE, BSc (Hon), BPharm
• Letter shortened.
WHAT I HAVE TO SAY
No doubt people would have seen the overwhelming negative press about KwaSizabantu, so much so that major retailers have chosen to suspend trade with KwaSizabantu companies (aQuellé and Emseni Farming). These decisions were made based exclusively on the Exodus “expose” by News24.
I have now had enough. The reporting by News24 is biased. This is a small part of my story.
I went to school at Domino Servite School (DSS) — the school at KwaSizabantu. I joined the school in 1992 in Grade 4. I matriculated from the school in 2000. I had a great schooling experience. DSS gave me the opportunity of receiving an excellent education, being instructed by warm and caring teachers. I was given the opportunity to challenge myself and participate in external science competitions. To describe KSB and DSS as closed off to the outside world is preposterous.
Early in 2000, in my matric year, I was diagnosed with cancer. This changed everything for me, what followed was months of chemotherapy and operations. However, DSS, the teachers and the pupils, were so kind to me. They allowed me to go to school when I could or, when I was too weak to attend class, sent my schoolwork home to me. When my hair fell out I went to school in a beanie, and other pupils in my class came with beanies too. I always felt supported. (Clearly, the claim that the mission does not allow medical treatment is ludicrous.)
During that matric year DSS still allowed me to participate in the science expo. For the first time, I went from the provincials to nationals in Pretoria. Due to the dedication of the teachers, I went on to write the matric exams and ended up as senior dux. Right after matric I was given work opportunities on the mission. I am still living and working on the mission. I am so happy and privileged to work at such an amazing place where the purpose is to help others. By the way, in the early 1990s, when many schools dished out corporal punishment, I also received occasional hidings at school, and certainly when I deserved them. The punishment was given in love, with the intention to help stop my naughty ways! But I never experienced any beatings, as claimed by News24. (DSS stopped corporal punishment a year before the government banned it.)
I am a proud DSS old scholar.
THE MARVELLOUS WORK OF THE MISSION
I, Nontlahla Zilwa, am an accountant by profession and live in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. I stand before God, testifying about his marvellous work at KwaSizabantu Mission that has benefited South Africans and beyond.
No wonder Satan is raging like a lion, wanting to kill, steal and destroy KwaSizabantu.
I got to know about the mission through reading a book written by Erlo Stergen about his testimony and how KwaSizabantu as an organisation that helps humanity was developed.
My spirit then prompted me to go and see this place in March 2009. When I arrived there, everything was prepared for me, free accommodation, free food. It was unbelievable to me that there is such a wonderful and peaceful organisation here on Earth with wonderful servant people.
I saw people who were full of love and dedicated to serving people. While I was there it was impressed on my spirit that I should take the board members of Acat [Africa Co-operative Action Trust] there, as I was a director, to learn from KwaSizabantu and its projects.
I was shown the projects they were involved in, like the mini hospital they had to help HIV people from all parts of SA, and some dormitories that housed people who were sick and needed help, including drug abusers and people who the hospitals were unable to help who were on the verge of death. KwaSizabantu staff and counsellors helped those people through the word of God, and many were healed and others improved. Their constitution is the Bible, the word of God. I was overwhelmed by their love and the servanthood spirit they had. I saw many projects involving agriculture, baking, water supply, etc.. I went back to the Eastern Cape and persuaded the Acat board members to go there and learn from KwaSizabantu as Acat is also a Christian organisation. The board members were interested to go. At the time, Acat was struggling and the employees were temporarily out of work due to a lack of financial resources. Acat was applying for funding from the government and other institutions. We wanted to be in partnership with KwaSizabantu to help communities.
We were shown all the projects. KwaSizabantu taught the people of Tugela to plant their gardens and not to rely on shops for the things they can grow themselves. Sizabantu supplied them with seeds to plant their gardens.
I saw Christ in these people, starting with Pastor Erlo Stergen. What a humble man with his family! We were introduced by Mr Matomela who was the minister in the Department of Education at the time. Mr Stergen informed us that if we will rely on loans from other companies, he cannot partner with us because God who provides for humanity will not be glorified, instead we will glorify these companies. He taught us about how God provides for his people without begging. Stergen said that by the grace of God they will provide us with seeds, and test our land for agriculture, as well as teach us how to make jam. He said that we could send some employees to learn from them about the projects they do so as to transfer skills. All that was to be done free of charge.
KwaSizabantu is not a cult. It accepts at the pulpit all the Christians who belong to Christ, that is who have accepted Jesus Christ.
For example, Reverend Mbatha is our Anglican priest in KZN. He used to be given a stage to preach there when there were conferences. Mrs Nodada is from the Methodist Church and they allowed her to occupy their pulpit.
KwaSizabantu in terms of services rendered, helps all who need their help, irrespective of religion, but all is done according to the word of God. They minister peace, love and forgiveness to people. In Mthatha, we have an organisation that is not registered yet has been formed to assist the Department of Education in its programme to help the abused and drug abusers. The department connects all the pupils and community members who are involved in drugs with KwaSizabantu to be assisted there.
KwaSizabantu indeed has delivered many pupils, youth and community members in our country who were involved in drugs. We as this organisation receive all those who were helped at KwaSizabantu to sustain them through the word of God, and through providing them with various skills.
May the accusers of the organisation repent and speak the truth, and may the individual cases be dealt with as such, and not smear the whole organisation.
May even the companies who buy KwaSizabantu products testify, instead of acting in line with the smear campaign.
The truth will prevail.