Durban - A group of young men and women from Durban have abandoned their families apparently at the behest of their pastor.
Some parents are now worried that something illicit may be going on at a house in uMhlanga where a group of about 15 people in their early twenties have been living and working.
This week, one parent opened a missing person report with police after her daughter failed to make contact with the family or return home.
Another parent told the Sunday Tribune she was also worried about her daughter’s well-being, while neighbours have also raised concerns about the strange goings-on at the house.
The pastor who is referred to as Rabbi, but whose real name is Siza Madlala, is a former church keyboard player who moved to Durban a few years ago from Johannesburg to start his own church known as the House of Grace International.
Thembi Miya, of Mariannhill Park, said she suspected there were dark forces at play when her daughter Nkanyezi, 20, started frequenting the church three years ago.
She said her daughter never missed a service, but usually returned from weekday prayers at odd hours saying unemployed congregants were receiving forex trading skills.
The church moved to Durban North and Nkanyezi joined about 15 other members who were living in the home leased by the church.
“She had become someone I did not know. Often speaking in a disrespectful manner. In October she told me she wanted to leave and be at the church full time,” said Miya.
She said a woman named Mystery arrived at their Pinetown home and told her she had been sent by the church to fetch Nkanyezi. Without her consent, the pair left for Durban North and in the days and months that followed, communication between her and Nkanyezi dwindled until she could no longer reach her.
“When we did communicate it was through Facebook messenger and she was now calling herself The Last Born. In our conversations she would beg me to release her as she wanted to fully commit to the church. She said she wanted to be with the Rabbi who had renamed her Hadasa because he was her god.”
The Sunday Tribune visited the home in Durban North and most of the Rabbi’s followers were present.
One of the neighbours said that last Sunday police had accompanied some parents to the residence to look for their children.
“They chant all morning and all night. They make strange movements and it’s pretty scary,” said the neighbour.
Nkanyezi said she had left her home because she wanted to fulfil the vision of the church of becoming a “kingdom”. She said she had been suffering with severe depression and found purpose within a company owned by one of the church members as a forex trader.
“I didn’t know who I was and what I wanted. I am now a trader for Mishkan Capital. All of us who live here support ourselves through our work. The company helps us focus more on our vision hence we choose to isolate ourselves from everyone.”
Nkanyezi insisted that none of the Rabbi’s followers were kept against their will.
“We know what we are doing and we are determined. We are not trying to get anyone’s attention or to impress anyone but we are here to fulfil our vision. Through our work we are building systems and businesses using people’s natural abilities. I am about my father’s business,” she said.
Vusi Dube, a pastor and an ANC provincial legislature member, said this was a serious matter which needed urgent attention. He said the lack of intervention by church leaders in the past led to the Tim Omotoso ordeal where young women were allegedly groomed and raped.
“We are all guilty when we do not say anything especially because this has everything to do with us in the religious fraternity. These pastors have a tendency to isolate their followers and usually give themselves unique names so as to instil fear. This is serious and we are going to lose credibility as genuine Christians.”
Edward Mafadza, chief executive officer at the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission, said they would have to investigate the matter and come up with solutions.
“If needs be we may have to involve institutions whose mandate is to deal with issues of abuse and security. We may also need to engage the leadership of the church to persuade them to allow followers to be in contact with their families.”
Captain Nqobile Gwala confirmed that a case of a missing person had been opened at the Pinetown Police Station by parents of one of the Rabbi’s followers.
“Police visited the house in Durban North last Sunday and found the 22-year-old at the residence. She told police tshe was there on her own accord and she had been in contact with her family.”
Gwala said police could not remove any of those found on the premises because they were all adults who assured police that they were living at the home by choice.