A Brief Account of my Personal experiences at Kwasizabantu Mission in the period from 1986 to 1995.
When I first joined Kwasizabantu mission, fourteen years ago, as a young and zealous Christian, I never thought that Kwasizabantu mission was capable of so much evil. All I had heard of the mission were praises from people who had received help in various ways from the mission. Fourteen years later, I have to say that I doubt that the authorities of the mission, ever thought then that their evil would come out. It is indeed true that “no grave is deep enough to bury the truth”. This article is an account of my experiences over the nine years I spent at the mission.
The place which was supposed to bring the souls of people closer to Christ, proved the opposite for many people. While I can summarise my experiences at the mission as taste of hell on earth, I did not realise this right away. Anybody who has only visited the mission for a short time – a weekend perhaps – will disagree with the sentiments expressed in this article, as the mission made sure that short-term visitors are given the best possible treatment, especially if they were VIP’s of sorts. Ask anybody who has spent a considerable amount of time as a student, general worker or ever part of the leadership at the mission, they will tell you about the evil that went on in the name of God.
During my short stay at the mission – considering that some people have spent over 20 years at the mission – I experienced discrimination practised in the name of God. What do I mean by this? Read on¼
For the benefit of the reader who is not familiar with the mission, let me briefly describe the hierarchical structure of the mission as it affects my story. At the very top of this institution is the founder and leader Rev. Erlo Stegen himself. Immediately under him is a committee of 3 elders which consists of Mrs Josephinah Ntsibande, Mrs Hilda Dube, and her daughter Mrs Lydia Dube who were primarily – though not exclusively – responsible for the black Christian community at the mission. Alongside, this committee of elders was an ad hoc committee of elders who were primarily – though not exclusively – responsible for white Christians. Under this committee of elders was a council of co-workers (preachers), which comprised of all the preachers including members of the famous Kwasizabantu choir (no. 1) which has travelled the world “singing to the glory of God”. Thereafter, Kwasizabantu choir no.2 (to which I belonged at the time of my departure), choir no.3 (also known as Zilungiselele), choir no.4 (also known as Thuma Mina), Kwasizabantu Youth Choir (which was made up of present and past pupils of the notorious Domino Servite School), Domino Servite School choirs, various other small choirs formed of different groups of individuals, and the masses of general workers, farm workers, shop assistants, and builders who did not belong to any of the choirs and therefore were regarded as having made the least spiritual progress.
This grading of people was so that it could be easy to give people the treatment they “deserved” depending on how far advanced they were spiritually. As you can see I had advanced quite high up the ladder (choir no.2), but had started right at the bottom as a worker in the poultry farm. While people who belonged to the leadership structure down to members of the second choir were given good and fresh food, those of us under, were given left over’s and at times food that had gone off. Care was taken to ensure that the visitors were given good food, especially if they were white, and more so if they were from Europe, as they were potential sources of income for the mission. It should be noted that those who belong to the levels below the second choir were often black people most of whom with little or no education, with the exception of the members of the Domino Servite School and the Kwasizabantu Youth choirs.
The black people, who belonged to the levels below the second choir, were made to live under appalling conditions. Up to 80 men and more than 100 females would share a single dormitory i.e. men alone and women alone. Our white counterparts however, never experienced this. At most, not more than 10 of them ever shared a single room at any given time. Accommodation at the “place of God ” was worse off than in hostels and compounds, but only for poor black people.
People at the mission could be divided into three groups:
salaried staff – those who had genuinely joined the mission for employment purposes;
volunteers – those who had come to meet with God, and in the process of doing that volunteer their services in different ways; and
the school population.
Most black people belonged to the first category as we were poor and needed money in order to support our families. People at the leadership level however, were all volunteers and never drew a salary. As I mentioned earlier, that I started as a general poultry farm worker, my first salary and that of most of my colleagues at that level was R30. That was in 1986. In 1995 when I left the mission, my salary was R250, and the highest paid person received R300 with the exception of school teachers whose salary did not exceed R1000. While people’s salaries were a top secret, and we never got to know how much those high up the ladder were getting, we knew how much our peers earned. I am not convinced that a place like Kwasizabantu which had so many money-making projects and received considerable amounts of money from overseas sources was justified to pay us so little.
The projects I am referring to were:
1. Kiwi fruit plantation;
2. Dairy farm with over 100 cows;
3. Poultry farm with 10 000 egg-laying birds, and 7 000 broilers (for meat);
4. Fish farm;
5. Big supermarkets;
7. Honey production,
8. Jam factory
9. Curio shop
We worked very long hours on these projects as we were assured that God will reward us one day. If we dared to complain about our salaries, we were told that we were being used by the devil against “Gods” work and had to apologise or face expulsion. I must admit, I never knew how much our white counterparts were paid, but I do know one thing, they received better treatment in all respects. At the point when I had grown to be the manager of the poultry farm as well doing a range of other things, my white counterparts who managed vegetable, dairy, kiwi fruit farms, drove around in mission vehicles, a luxury I never enjoyed.
What was also very interesting was that there were other colleagues who worked on farms and supermarkets which belonged to the leadership, who were also told that they were working for God. I never understood how Ms Lydia Dube’s shops, and Mr Friedel Stegen’s shops were God’s work. These are but two such people who owned properties and businesses on which they used labour from the mission and claimed that people were working for God.
The beatings that went on at the mission are now in the public domain in the sense that so much has been reported on them in the different newspapers. I do however feel it is necessary to confirm some of these and add my knowledge of it. It is true that the children who went to school at Domino lived in constant fear as they were often beaten for such little things as clapping hands during a play performance, dancing to a song, listening to music with a beat, rejoicing over defeating a netball team of elders, speaking to a girl or a boy, and many more. I recall an incident in August 1988 where 98% of the school population – with the exception of white kids and a few black kids – were beaten for alleged relationships with the opposite sex. This was outrageous and brutal. Members of the first choir and other preachers helped themselves to beating the school children.
While it was a norm for Mr Alpheus Mdlalose and Michael Ngubane – both members of the school board – to beat children for whatever cases of breaking the rules of the school, most past pupils of the school will tell you about how Mr Sipho Mbeje and Thulani Sabela beat them during the 1988 incident. The denial by Rev. Kjell Olsen of these incidents is nothing but a joke.
These beatings did not only happen to school kids it happened to most people at the mission. It was a known thing at the mission that punishment for any wrong-doing in the eyes of the authorities was either beating or expulsion and in some cases both. Just about everybody who lived at the mission participated in this brutality by either reporting an incident to the authorities or physically beating someone.
In the case of other people other than the school kids, we had to show our disapproval of what our peers may have done by disowning them; stopping to communicate with them and in some cases beat him/her jointly. I remember an incident where one schoolgirl (Nozipho Sibisi) had told a lie about me, and to prove that I had not done any of the things she alleged, I had to beat her. Mr Michael Ngubane held her down and I beat her 2 times and thereafter he (Mr Ngubane) beat her countless times, which was followed by expulsion.
Strange as it may sound, as late as 1995, a married woman with three kids and a husband who is also a preacher at the mission was publicly beaten by her fellow members of the first choir. This cannot be right, not in a civilised country and certainly not in a supposedly Christian institution.
How much do I know about the death of Nkosi Mntungwa son of Philemon Mntungwa? Very little. I must admit that at the time of this incident, I had not been long enough at the mission to have access to such classified information. What is public knowledge – at least now – is the fact that Nkosi Mntungwa was killed by his own father – Philemon. This is the worst that any parent can do. While I do not wish to suggest that the mission condoned this, they may have reported it to the police, but I just wonder what kind of statement was given to the police as no one was prosecuted. We can never be sure since it is a known fact that the mission has a long standing relationship with the Kranskop police. Surely this calls for an inquiry, a person cannot just disappear. The Kranskop police – especially the Station Commander at the time – must come clean or face prosecution.
People in authority, not necessarily Rev. Erlo Stegen, but his co-workers, could just about do anything to punish a person who was perceived to have broken the rules of the mission. Someone known to me was infact locked up in a deepfreezer as a form of punishment. Although this incident I am told happened over 20 years ago, I feel it is relevant to mention.
As a result of not only the beatings but all forms of punishment that we were subjected to, we lived in fear and could not trust the people we shared the rooms with. A person you shared a room with was a potential informer of the authorities, and in fact, during the confessions we were encouraged to tell on our colleagues. A term used for telling on other people was “helping them”. It was meant that if you reported someone, you were helping them from the devil that was using them against God’s work.
Military Intelligence Involvement
Quite frankly, from my childhood, I was never fascinated by anything to do with the military. Having grown up at Ingwavuma in the north coast – near the boarder of Mozambique – in the seventies during the Renamo – Frelimo war and saw the members of the SADF who patrolled the boarders, I decided against a career in the military. Infact, I remember my conversation with an army officer way back in 1982 who asked me in Afrikaans whether I wanted to be a soldier when I finish school and I told him that I wanted to be a Religious Minister. Therefore, when I joined Kwasizabantu, I thought I was safe from anything to do with the military, but I was wrong.
Although I was not directly involved with the military intelligence on behalf of Kwasizabantu, but I am acutely aware of the mission’s involvement/connections with the MI. It is also public knowledge that Tobie Vermaak, a military intelligence colonel was the link between the mission and MI. This, Mr Kjell Olsen, the spokesperson of the mission, admitted during a telephone conversation between him and I on 09/02/2000.
I am kind of hoping that through this process of speaking out about what people know about the misdemeanours that took place at the mission, that I will find out the truth about what exactly was going on.
I briefly referred to confessions, which went on at the mission as part of the Christian practise when people repented of their sins. It was a well-known thing that anybody who had anything to confess which related to any involvement with the liberation movement – ANC/UDF and of the progressive student bodies – was referred to the notorious Lydia Thofozi Dube – one most feared woman in the mission. It was also well known that anybody who confessed any such was immediately given special treatment. I was never lucky to be one of those, otherwise I would know where they were often taken to. I do know that they were sometimes taken to Pretoria to meet with the MI officers, to the coast for holidays, and accompanied the Kwasizabantu choir on national and international tours such as Cape Town, Jo’burg, Namibia, and Germany. It always bothered me and many of my friends as to why anybody was given such treatment if they confessed to any involvement with the liberation movement. Your guess on this one is as good as mine.
Let me tell you what my guess is, and I believe I am not way off the mark. The information gathered during these confessions, was given (maybe sold) to the MI and that the MI paid for these luxuries they enjoyed.
I must point out at this stage that I truly believe that it was never an intention of the colleagues who confessed to these involvements to be sell-outs. We all know that during the period starting in 1976, young people participated in various actions in protest against the apartheid regime, those actions in some cases involved killing by necklacing people. I believe that these colleagues confessed these things because they wanted to have peace with God as some were severely traumatised by these experiences. The notorious Lydia Dube would use this information to help the apartheid regime. I find it very ironical when the mission claims that it was against apartheid, because if they were, how could they give such information to apartheid bosses. I have no doubts that many comrades were killed as a result of Lydia’s dirty job. I wish I had the details of how this information was used by the MI against the liberation movements. Moreover, at this point, I would like to appeal to anybody who reads this or any of the articles written on this story and has any knowledge of these misdemeanours to come forward and speak out.
The latest incident of these dealings – that I can remember – involved the following people – all of whom have since left the mission for various reasons and I therefore assume that they have nothing to hide in this regard:
Daniel Matoti – from the Reef
Bonginkosi Nxumalo – from Mpophomeni
Richard Zwane – from Ntuzuma
Sibusiso Cele – from KwaMashu
Delani Ntuli – from Greytown
What was interesting to most of us about the first two was how these people who joined Kwasizabantu only in 1993 suddenly became the mission’s favourites. Apart from all the tours described above, they were also accommodated at Rev. Stegen’s own house, driven around in his personal car, and had 2 bodyguards – Justice Cele and David Jaca. Unfortunately, Mr Jaca has since passed away. As for the third one – Richard Zwane, he was given a kombi (16-seater Marathon) to go and start a business and make a living and pay back in instalment based on the success of the business. This had never happened before, and we kept on asking what was so special about the sins that were confessed by these to deserve such treatment. The reason why I have included people’s names is so that should they deny all this – at least as a reader you can follow it up on your own wherever you meet these people, at least those who are still alive.
In the late eighties, when Reverend Stegen intensified his fight against the ANC on the basis that the ANC supports communism whose results he had seen in countries such as Russia, Romania, East Germany which he had visited and persecution of Christians allegedly carried out by communists, a theory was hatched. The theory was that the ANC wanted to kill Rev. Stegen and to destroy the mission. And in response to that, the mission had to train its own security personnel. This was to comprise of all senior members of the mission i.e. all preachers, co-workers, members of the second choir (to which I belonged) and all whites who were trained military men. Para-military training was provided for those of us, who had no military training, this involved essentially all blacks. I was personally given one-week training in using various guns such as shotguns, R1 rifles, 9mm, and AK47s.
The head of the mission security branch, was Mr Dietmar Joosten, and the mastermind behind all this and senior trainer was Mr Janie Le Roux. Soon the need was identified for more intensive security to be provided for Reverend Stegen, and a few of his top-guys, and so bodyguards were trained. I was never trained as a body-guard, all I did was to patrol the mission at night carrying a shotgun with a white colleague. I never owned a gun, whereas those who received training as bodyguards were helped to get firearms, either personally or to use some from the pool which were kept in Mr Janie Le Roux’s rondavel.
Two things disturb me about the use of weapons at the mission. I know of an incident where two people from the neighbouring location were shot at. One of them died almost instantly, and the other one, a young boy had his leg amputated as a result. What crime had they committed? They had stolen boxes of eggs from the farm previously and one night as they stole they were shot at. Now I do not condone stealing anything, but I question whether it was really necessary for somebody to be killed.
The Death of Phumlani Makhanya
The second thing that disturbs me is the knowledge that a young man called Phumlani Makhanya was killed by his own brother Mandla Makhanya – who has since passed away – using a gun which was obtained through the mission scheme. Mandla Makhanya was a member of the team of bodyguards and was highly regarded by his masters as being the most accurate at shooting. It is believed that Mandla had an argument with his brother, who was supposedly drunk and Mandla got angry and shot him – dead. I am not bothered about the accuracy of the story of why he killed him, my concern has to do with an argument between Christian brothers ending in shooting. It might be argued that Phumlani was not a Christian since he drank alcohol, even that does not bother me, what bothers me most is the mission’s response to this.
I still recall as though it was yesterday, a handful of co-workers (this is how the preachers were called) in a bakkie NKK 270 – which belonged to the mission but was used by Mr Johan van Eck – going out the gates of the mission with picks and shovels. They went to dig a grave to bury Phumlani at Umpumulo cemetery. A friend of mine, who was part of this team, told me on their return how they buried Phumlani at some concealed bush. Phumlani was buried like a dog, by not more than 12 people. My question is did the authorities of the mission not know about this? I do not know why I am even asking this question, as Mrs Ntsibande one of the elders had accompanied this all-men squad.
During my time at the mission I had never been to a funeral which had less than a hundred people, and shouldn’t this have indicated to those present at this funeral that there was something wrong? I knew Phumlani’s extended family, and none of those were present. In our culture, we do not bury people like that but this was swept under carpets. Phumlani’s mother, brother and sister who are still alive would like some answers, more so with the mysterious death of Mandla Makhanya himself. Surely, this must convince anybody who had any doubts as to the evil of the mission that an inquiry is called for.
I feel it is necessary for the point to be made in the strongest terms possible that the mission supported apartheid. Surely, the account of their involvement with the military intelligence – an organ of the apartheid regime – confirms this. They were clearly against the liberation movement and those of us who dared to question things and raise concerns about what was going on were labelled communists and excommunicated from the church.
Involvement with the IFP
The spokesperson of the African National Congress in the province, Mr Mtholephi Mthimkhulu, said in a statement in which his organisation calls for a probe into the allegations levelled against the mission, that he questions the extent to which the mission is supportive of the ANC-led dispensation. I would like to him that given this kind of background, this should not be a question to ask. If anything, the mission is more supportive of the IFP-led KwaZulu Natal Province.
I remember during the 1994 elections when the mission embarked on what was called voter education, which was in actual fact semi-IFP election campaign. Only bad things were said about the ANC and only good said about the IFP. Those who have been following developments at the mission will know that only the leader of the IFP was invited on several occasions to address meetings at the mission other than apartheid bosses.
The only explanation given for affording the IFP and NP an opportunity to address large audiences at the mission was that the leader of the IFP, Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi was a professing Christian, and that Adriaan Vlok and others in the case of the NP, were also publicly professing Christians. At one stage in 1993/94 when there was pressure from the people who visited the mission that the mission should demonstrate its impartiality by inviting leaders from other parties, they invited the Honourable Jacob Zuma – now Deputy President of South Africa – to a secret meeting which only involved a few of the leadership. He was not given an opportunity to address a large audience of over 5000 people as was the case with the NP and IFP leaders.
Denying People the Right to Acquire Education
This sounds like a contradiction of a mission, which runs one of the most successful schools in the country in terms of producing good matric results, to say that it denied people their right to education. It has been 5 years since I left the mission and therefore I do not know whether this is still practised, I hope not.
When I joined the mission in 1986, I had left school at standard 7 and desperately wanted to continue. I reported to my boss, Ms Kathrin Schrenker – a German national – that I wanted to continue to study through correspondence. She said she was going to consult with the mamas and sis Thofozi (Lydia) who formed the core of the leadership, and three weeks later informed me that my request had been turned down. When I enquired as to the reasons, I was told that it was not God’s will for me to study, I must concentrate on confessing my sins and getting right with God. I thought this was only happening to me and later discovered that many more had been turned down before me.
It took me some time to figure out why Lydia was so adamant that furthering one’s education was not God’s will – often citing the Domino students as examples of how education makes a person rebellious, and disrespectful – that the real reason was that although Lydia could speak English and German fairly well, she had only gone as far as Standard four and was therefore frightened of more enlightened subjects. While so many of us were barred from furthering our studies, I am not aware of any white person who was refused such an opportunity.
The only time that I managed to continue with my studies was when the mission started a literacy project and needed me to teach at this project that I argued that it was not possible for me to be a teacher if I did not further my studies. I was then allowed to continue with my studies after wasting a long time. As for the literacy project, it was only started so that people would be able to read the Bible and it was not to provide any education further than acquiring basic reading and writing skills.
Denying People Access to Information
Listening to radio and reading a newspaper was not allowed, so that our only source of information was the authorities of the mission. They listened to radio, they read newspapers and they watched TV, but all of this was not good for us, it was full of ungodly things. Any information was sifted by the authorities and they only told us what they thought we needed to hear. As a result, we were denied an opportunity to participate in the developments and debates which shaped our country.
The tapes we listened to and books we read had to be Christian stuff and even they had to be censored and be approved by the authorities who knew very little themselves. It is amazing that a large percentage of the black leadership at the mission have either never been to school or can barely read in their mother-tongue, but those people are charged with a responsibility of choosing what information is good for me who could read a lot more than they did. This is not a comment I enjoy making, to talk about people’s lack of education, if anything as a literacy activist, I make it my responsibility to try and ensure that those who need literacy are given an opportunity. The point I am making however, is that people can be used to that extent.
Infringement on People’s Right to Privacy
I left the mission when I realised that the mission was becoming more than I could bear. Because of the belief that if you dared to question the authority you were a communist, I was constantly under surveillance. My movements were monitored. If I needed to leave the mission and go anywhere I needed permission, although this did not apply to me exclusively but even inside the mission I was often followed by some people who were instructed to spy on me. My letters were opened. There was one instance where the lady who delivered our mail (Sibongeleni Ngubane) handed me a letter which had been opened and I told her that I did not want it and that she should return it to whoever gave it to her.
The day I really decided it was too much was when I had had a discussion with a friend in my room which we shared with 7 others, at the time there was only the two of us or at least we thought so. I told this friend that I was considering leaving the mission, I could no longer take what it did to me. I named other friends with whom we were planning to leave. That afternoon I was called by Mr Michael Ngubane who demanded that I explained what I meant in that conversation. I was shocked because I was sure there was only the two of us in the room. It turned out that one of the spies – Mr Thembinkosi Zuma was hiding under the bed and heard the discussion and then reported it to the authorities. This just confirms that Kwasizabantu is worse than Vlakplaas.
As I had made up my mind that I was leaving the mission, I left the following day never to return. However, before I managed to leave, I was called to a meeting with the council of elders, which started at 8pm until 3am. For seven hours, I had to give answers for the discussion about leaving the mission. Mr Kjell Olsen and Fano Sibisi were among the 16 elders who interrogated me.
Interference with Marriages
Until the time of my departure at the mission, I was not married but it was well-known that the elders at the mission (the big 3 i.e. Mrs Ntsibande, Mrs Dube and Lydia) including Reverend Erlo Stegen, were involved in helping people choose their spouses if not choose for them completely. Many marriages that you find at the mission are as a result of this scheme and are therefore unhappy. I had my taste of this, a fact which contributed to my departure.
Perhaps one last fascinating thing is the fact that Lydia was so integral to marriage processes, starting from choosing your spouse to marriage counselling, but she herself has never been married. I do not know what it is that qualifies her to provide counselling to married couples as she has no experience of marriage whatsoever. I know, as a matter of fact that she has no training as a marriage counsellor and the only explanation I can think of is that she rose from the dead. It is alleged that she died, met with God and was brought back to life. Some dismiss this as fallacy arguing that she must have been in a deep coma. I reserve my comment on this one.
This is not a script for an American horror movie production, it is the truth. Many people out there know more, and I only hope that they find the time, energy and courage to either write what they know or tell it to someone.
I have tried to give a full account of my experience at the mission in this article. However, it has to be understood that I lived at the mission from 1986 to 1995 – 9 years – and therefore cannot possibly remember everything. What I have also done in this article is to include all the names of the persons concerned in my experiences. This I did, after seeing how much the leadership at the mission seems to deny everything, to ensure that anyone can follow these up on their own.
Earlier on in this article, I referred to the mysterious death of Mandla Makhanya – who was killed in a car accident which involved a truck a couple of years ago. There are rumours going around that this accident was orchestrated at the mission for reasons I do not know. I do not necessarily support this rumour, but since my job involves extensive travelling, I am mentioning this so that the public knows should I die a mysterious death.
On the final note, I love the people of Kwasizabantu; I spent the most precious time of my life – my youth – at Kwasizabantu. I love Rev. Erlo Stegen and some of his workers, but I hate the things that go on there. I am writing this article not so much for me as I have moved on with my life, but I care about the many people who are literally slaves and live in fear as we speak. Many people have been touched by the work of Kwasizabantu in many ways, there is some good that happens at Kwasizabantu, and it would be a pity if the evil triumphs over the good. May God have mercy on Kwasizabantu.