Pastors defend Kwasizabantu Christian mission against abuse allegations
Durban - WHILE allegations of fraud and sexual abuse have surfaced against Kwasizabantu, a Christian mission station in Kranskop, several pastors and a former Phoenix policewoman have a different story to tell.
Theresa Moodley, an ex-policewoman, said she worked with the mission for over 40 years and was one of the first group of people to visit there.
She said her encounters were always pleasant.
“We were always treated with humility and respect and I had a good relationship with the mission staff.”
She said she continued to hold empowerment workshops and women’s retreats at the mission.
“I do a trip there every August with 60 to 70 senior citizens from Phoenix and we stay there at no cost,” said Moodley.
She said she often referred drug addicts to the mission for rehabilitation.
“Some ran away for obvious reasons and others complained that the mission was too strict. But the rules are there to ensure that they get the spiritual, emotional and physical help that they need.”
Moodley, who founded the Women Ablaze Foundation (it provides a haven for abused women), said she was surprised by the allegations as reported by News24.
Five pastors from Chatsworth and Phoenix also expressed concern.
They have referred people with drug-related dependencies as well as depression to the mission. Until now they thought highly of the mission.
Kwasizabantu, which is in Kranskop near Greytown in KwaZulu-Natal, was the focus of a seven-month long investigation by News24. Several people who were interviewed alleged that money was being stolen and that some in senior management were guilty of abuse.
Marietjie Bothma, a South African TV personality, was one of the alleged victims.
She told the POST Kwasizabantu had destroyed her life and left her emotionally scarred.
She claimed she was sexually abused from the age of 5 after she moved into the mission with her adopted family.
Both parents had senior positions at the mission.
“My sexual and physical abuse started with my father. He would touch me and then beat me. He also hit my mother,” said Bothma.
“Before he became a minister, he worked as a lieutenant in the South African Defence Force and was a violent man.”
She also claimed she was sexually abused by male and female counsellors who she and other children had to confess their sins to.
Bothma said she confided in her nanny and was punished for doing so.
“I would be locked up in the church room with rats for three days or sometimes for a week or two. My parents would tell everyone I was sick. When my dad was asleep, my mom would come and give me puthu with water and let me take a shower before my father woke up.”
According to Bothma, her father left the mission amid a growing number of accusations against him. He died in 2011. She said she thought the abuse would stop but it didn’t.
Bothma claimed another relative sexually abused her. When she tried to get help from outside the mission, she was stripped, beaten and made to eat with the dogs.
“There was a time when a bar of soap was shoved down my throat and because I could not swallow, I was beaten with bicycle chains. They would pull my hair and bash my head against the wall. I was told because I was born to a whore, that I was also a whore.”
She was not allowed to go to high school and instead worked in the mission. At some point she tried to end her life.
At 16, she was able to leave but, due to the lack of education, she was unable to find a job. Bothma said she was forced to live on the streets, where she was beaten and gang-raped. After two years, a pastor heard her singing gospel songs on a street corner and took her in. She got into the media industry and had minor roles in several TV shows, including the drama series Muvhango.
Bothma became a motivational speaker but said she still struggled with her past. “Kwasizabantu took away my childhood. They destroyed me.”
Otto de Vries, who worked in the mission, said: “There are hundreds, if not thousands more who could tell similar stories but they are afraid to do so.”
He said many were dependent on the mission and feared for their future if they spoke out.
De Vries grew up at the mission with his family and worked there after school for a few years. He said there were many signs that the mission operated as a cult and that people were punished for having romantic relationships or having children out of wedlock.
When he left and married, his family were not allowed to attend his wedding.
“They knew that it would be ‘suicide’ … If they were found out, they would get into major trouble with the leadership and possibly be ostracised.”
Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo, the spokesperson for the Hawks, said allegations of financial fraud were being investigated.
“We can confirm that the Pietermaritzburg Serious Commercial Crime Unit is investigating the allegations of fraud at Kwasizabantu Mission. The investigation is still at an early stage and no arrest has been made. This office is not aware of any sexual crime investigation.”
David Mosoma, the chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, said it would look into the allegations.
The mission did not respond to calls and emails for comment. During an online service on Sunday, it asked the congregation to stay strong in the face of the allegations.
The mission was started by Erlo Stegen, a German preacher, 50 years ago. Through international funding, it became one of the biggest missions in Africa. It has a care centre that offers free counselling and gardens that supply produce to some of South Africa’s largest retailers.
In a statement released on Tuesday evening, the mission said the allegations were false and a vicious attack on their institution .
“The attack has taken us by complete surprise, and we have been totally unprepared for this onslaught.”
The mission said they had assembled an external team over the weekend to help re-group and develop a way forward.
“We are committed to transparency and are in the process of appointing an independent review committee focusing on the respective allegations. This committee will be announced soon along with their mandates, independence and transparency.”
The mission said they were also working with law enforcement to deal with the allegations and to take action against those making the allegations.
“We have no doubt that the allegations made against the Mission will in due course be proven inaccurate. We have engaged with legal and judicial systems and reserve the right to prosecute those involved in making false allegations to the full extent of the law.”