Witness accuses KwaSizabantu of forcing him and dozens of other families off their land
Johannesburg - The CRL Rights Commission has heard further evidence about the various allegations made against the KwaZulu-Natal-based KwaSizabantu Christian Mission.
The commission was conducting the second leg of its investigation into allegations of fraud, rape, assault and money laundering levelled against the church. The hearings began in Durban last week and on Tuesday they moved to Joburg.
The Commission’s hearings were sparked by an investigation conducted by News24 which quoted several people who spoke about being victims of abuse at the church and other allegations of fraud.
The first witness on the stand on Wednesday was Ishmael Khuzwayo.
He detailed his interactions with the church which he accused of forcing him and dozens of other families off their land in KZN.
Speaking in isiZulu, Khuzwayo said he and other families had been residing on a piece of land which was purchased by the government from a farmer who owned the land.
However, years later, the same farmer sold the land to KwaSizabantu.
Khuzwayo said this is where all the communities problems began as the church demanded that all the families residing on the land should move.
He said a community leader, appointed to represent the residents, had been forced to sign an unspecified document.
The man signed the document because he was illiterate and unaware of the information presented to him.
That community leader was later replaced by a relative of Khuzwayo. The new community leader was invited to a hostel, owned by KwaSizabantu, where he met church leaders.
Khuzwayo’s uncle was threatened with a gun and later offered money to sign an unspecified document. The uncle refused to sign the document, the commission heard.
Khuzwayo and many others were eventually forced off the land and moved to another area which he described as not farm-friendly as the land was not fertile and there was no water.
He said when the community went to Ladysmith to enquire about the land’s ownership, officials told them that the maps accompanying the registered deeds were lost.
CRL commissioners also heard evidence from a pastor, Martin Frische, who had many encounters with the church’s leader Erlo Stegen.
Frische detailed how in the 1970s he had arrived in South Africa as part of a German mission to investigate KwaSizabantu.
He said they found that there were issues around claims of leaders speaking in trance and claims to hear voices from God. He also said they found the church was largely dependent on visions and dreams and also a huge emphasis was placed on visions and dreams.
Frische said the church could be described as a combination between a church and a cult – based on its structure and behaviour.
He asked the commission to take the allegations made against the church seriously.
“Lives of so many people have been destroyed. I have emails from people from all over the world who shared their story with me. I hope today is the day the CRL commission will not fall into the trap and allow them to continue. That would be tragic for the many people who left the mission and their lives were destroyed,” Frische said.
KwaSizabantu's representatives had stormed out of last week's Durban hearings citing unfair treatment.