A 50-year old Christian mission in KwaZulu-Natal stands accused of gross violations of human rights, turning a blind eye to sexual abuse, and money laundering spanning four decades.

After an investigation of seven months, News24 can today reveal the depth of the rot at KwaSizabantu (KSB), one of the biggest missions in Africa started by German preacher Erlo Stegen in 1970 at Kranskop, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The mission has since morphed into a multibillion-rand money-making machine, owning the popular aQuellé sparkling water plant and supplying fruit and vegetables to Woolworths, Spar, Checkers and Shoprite.

Under apartheid, KwaSizabantu leadership monitored the families of ANC activists and provided information to the National Party's Security Branch and Military Intelligence.

Documentary

The case of the missing millions: Hawks investigating financial fraud at Mission KSB

Allegations of money laundering and fraud against the leadership of the KwaSizabantu (KSB) mission, captured in affidavits and financial statements before the Hawks, read like a James Bond movie script.

Cash packed in cooler boxes and zipper bags, was allegedly driven in 4x4 vehicles or flown in a small four-seater Cessna plane from the heart of a Christian mission in KwaZulu-Natal to various places in Gauteng.

Survivors

Erika: 'God is someone to be scared of. That is how they control people – they rule them through fear.'

Erika Bornman says she was 21 when Erlo Stegen put a "curse" on her life after she left KwaSizabantu.

A spontaneous, chatty and vivacious blonde little girl when the family was introduced to the mission, she walked out a shadow of the person she was when she arrived there 13 years earlier, she says. 

Marietjie: 'I was a full-time working child at the age of 13'

Marietjie Bothma makes a living from making people feel good. She gets a crowd going at the events she hosts, and made TV audiences laugh as the indecisive blonde who speaks fluent Zulu in a King Pie ad.

But she carries heavy emotional baggage which has been with her since she was a little girl, adopted into a family which introduced her to KwaSizabantu.

It's been 20 years since her adoptive mother and the mission turned its back on her. In those two decades, she has eight times attempted suicide.

Celimpilo: 'Fear drove everything' - disowned by mission at 15 after accepting chocolate from a man

Celimpilo Malinga was 15 years old when she was disowned and thrown out of KwaSizabantu for accepting a chocolate ball from a male employee at the mission's supermarket.

Accused of "seeing" the young choir member – against the mission rules, which warned of expulsion should a relationship with someone of the opposite sex be discovered – Malinga had denied the accusations, and refused to have the act of kindness land the man in trouble.

Chantal: 'I didn't even know what rape was, that I could say no'

In the sugarcane fields of the Stegen family farm, Chantal Engelbrecht says she was raped by a fellow mission member before she had even turned 16.

Over 30 years after the first attack, she reported her ordeal to the police in 2019.

Nelda: 'I thought I was dying. The rest I can't give details about.'

More than 20 years had passed when alleged child rape victim Nelda* built up the courage to report the crime committed against her when she was only five.

She had reported it before – to the KwaSizabantu leadership, she says – 10 years after she was sodomised by a man who was known to prey on little girls.

Amanda: Locked in a room and raped as a 'spiritual hiding'

A Bible verse was read to Amanda* after she was allegedly raped and sexually assaulted at KwaSizabantu.

The attack on her was called a "spiritual hiding". The only treatment she received after a pipe was used to attack her further, was counselling.

Now 30, she arrived at KwaSizabantu in 2012. She was 22 years old and keen to be a missionary; eager to work with children, specifically.

Gert: 'I will never go back' - leaving KwaSizabantu after more than two decades

"I always thought that I would live there until I died. Instead, I had to start over in my old age."

Gert de Vries and his wife Delia joined in 1994 after hearing of the mission at the church that they attended.

They had no intention of living there full time, but hoped to expand their knowledge and understanding of the Bible.

"But it is a utopia," De Vries recalls.

"The people were so friendly. The services at first felt like they were meant just for me. This place felt like such a blessing."

Tyronne: 'They refused to let me leave'

"Every time I said I wanted to go, I was told the devil was talking to me."

Tyronne Reyneke lived in a hostel with a group of other men. They would sit outside and listen to a broadcast audio service, where they were preached "nonsense".

"It was bizarre, like the evils of television and that women may only wear skirts. Sometimes I would sit there and think: 'Really?'"

'I'm deeply ashamed': Former KwaSizabantu employee on how he spied for apartheid security forces

A bearded Koos Greeff arrived at KwaSizabantu over 40 years ago, his thick hair styled in a Beatles haircut and his hands itching to do God’s work.

But he left a grey and disillusioned apartheid government mole on the dawn of democracy, the year he says the "old South Africa moved in" at the mission.

"I am deeply ashamed," Greeff said of acting as an informant for the State while working as a missionary at KwaSizabantu, a haven he described as "such a gentle, friendly place" when he had arrived there.

What is the KwaSizabantu Mission?

KwaSizabantu Mission was founded 50 years ago by missionary Reverend Erlo Stegen.

Nestled in the rolling hills of KwaZulu-Natal, the mission is situated between Kranskop and Maphumulo.

On its website, it describes itself as a "non-denominational Christian mission station that reaches out to people of all racial and cultural groups bringing a message of repentance and hope and providing spiritual guidance, educational support and counselling".

What is a cult or a sect and what are the 'worrying signs'?

An expert says there are "tell-tale signs" of alleged cultism at KwaSizabantu Mission, an allegation founder Reverend Erlo Stegen had 20 years ago vehemently denied.

'A smear campaign' - KwaSizabantu's response to raft of allegations

A smear campaign – this is what KwaSizabantu Mission has labelled allegations levelled against it.

KwaSizabantu to appoint review panel, wants those behind 'vicious allegations' brought to book

The KwaSizabantu Mission says it is engaging with law enforcement to bring to book those involved in "vicious allegations" .

Latest news

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Former KwaSizabantu member's 'grave concern' at 'commonness of rape, sexual immorality', CRL hears

Daughters of KwaSizabantu leader implicated in allegations of sexual assault

'Beaten until they peed in their pants' - Former KwaSizabantu member testifies at CRL Commission

Readers come to KwaSizabantu’s defence

Pastor tells CRL inquiry KwaSizabantu has history of 'avoiding accountability'

CRL Commission's probe into KwaSizabantu resumes in Gauteng

Beleaguered KwaSizabantu warns over huge job losses

KwaSizabantu welcomes govt probe, calls for jobs not to suffer

MEC Peggy Nkonyeni heads KZN probe into allegations of abuse at mission

Midmar Mile to consider dropping aQuellé, sets 2021 race date

KwaSizabantu: If allegations are proven, those responsible will be dealt with - Zikalala

WATCH | Inside KwaZulu-Natal govt's tour of controversial KwaSizabantu mission

KwaSizabantu walks out of CRL Rights Commission hearings after chairperson refuses to recuse himself

'They have mind control over people': Inquiry hears why ex-member calls KwaSizabantu a 'cult'

'Fatally flawed' - KwaSizabantu Mission slams CRL Commission probe into cult claims

Pick n Pay cuts ties with aQuellé amid KwaSizabantu allegations

Multipronged govt probe into KwaSizabantu in the works, CRL Rights Commission hears

'KwaSizabantu are God themselves', Celimpilo Malinga tells CRL Commission hearing

KwaSizabantu: Inquiry hears how mission 'covered up crimes'

aQuellé says 'livelihoods could be impacted' by allegations against KwaSizabantu mission

KwaSizabantu concedes to possible wrongdoing by the mission

'A malicious and criminal plan' to discredit us – KwaSizabantu's submission to independent panel

KwaSizabantu Mission is damaging all churches’ reputation, says alliance

Report into KwaSizabantu Mission, written 20 years ago, warns of 'cult-like behaviour'

'We left him in the custody of KwaSizabantu' - family fears worst as man still missing 1 year later

Cele denies being at KwaSizabantu after former member recalls seeing minister and 'his hat'

KwaSizabantu: A first glimpse into how independent review panel will deal with abuse claims

'Some of that happened to me too' – journalist Sipho Hlongwane on growing up at KwaSizabantu

'I was 5 years old': More allegations mount, but KwaSizabantu says virginity testing stopped in 2002

KwaSizabantu faithful "won’t come forward"

KwaSizabantu exposé: Ocean Racing Series backs aQuellé and 'massive positive impact' the company has made

Absa Cape Epic drops aQuellé as sponsor, Orlando Pirates monitors probe

Evangelist Peter Hammond backs KwaSizabantu Mission, says claims are part of a 'smear campaign'

KwaSizabantu: Exposé was about real people, and the 'horrific things they had been through'

KwaSizabantu Mission scandal: boycott bites

WRAP | How major retailers responded after allegations levelled against KwaSizabantu

KZN Social Development to follow up on KwaSizabantu

Midmar Mile condemns criminal activity, says it has experienced only 'positive upliftment' from aQuellé

aQuellé pulled from shelves at Makro, Game - as Food Lover's also cuts ties with ‘cult’ companies

Cele confirms that KwaSizabantu Mission is being investigated

KwaSizabantu 'cult': Woolworths halts buying from supplier, offers to help authorities

KwaSizabantu: Spar cuts ties with all suppliers associated with the KZN mission

aQuellé to appoint multidisciplinary panel to investigate 'vicious' media allegations

KwaSizabantu: CRL Rights Commission launches official probe, urges former members to come forward

KwaSizabantu: Stay strong, preacher tells congregants in the face of abuse allegations