By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP
Founder and President Emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom Party
Allegations being made against KwaSizabantu Mission in Kranskop, KwaZulu Natal, have come as a devastating shock. It is difficult to know what to think and how to react, because this case is complex and convoluted, involving very serious allegations, not only of physical and sexual abuse, but of money laundering, covert apartheid assistance, cultism and gross human rights’ violations.
Is it all true? Is it a smear campaign? Is it a plot to facilitate a land grab? Until official investigations are complete and any evidence has been tested in court, we cannot know. It would be irresponsible, and simply wrong, to declare anyone guilty before they have been tried.
Indeed, the repercussions of a knee-jerk reaction will be devastating for the thousands of people who call KwaSizabantu home, for the tens of thousands who worship there and for the millions who have engaged with the Mission over the past fifty years.
My own family has ties with KwaSizabantu, for the Reverend Erlo Stegen and his team have ministered to us for forty years. When I first heard of the Mission I was eager to visit, for the work they were doing sounded remarkable. What I found, was a place free of the racial segregation and oppression of apartheid. People of all races lived, worked, ate, learned and worshipped together.
My wife and I began attending services regularly and I became friends with Reverend Stegen. Our friendship has endured for forty years and he has provided spiritual support in the most difficult times. When my wife and I grieved the loss of five of our children, he grieved with us. When my wife died, he grieved too. And when we celebrated milestones, Reverend Stegen shared our joy.
Never in all these years of attending services at KwaSizabantu have I had any cause to question the biblical teachings, the motives or the ministry of the Mission. Since the Mission started in 1970, missionaries, pastors, religious organisations and leaders from all denominations have come, from around the world, to spend time at KwaSizabantu. And never have I heard of a single concern being raised that what is taught at KwaSizabantu deviates from biblical Christian teachings.
I cannot help but think that if there were any signs of cultism, this would have been flagged by someone, at some point, in the last 50 years.
Unlike a cult, the Mission does not require a financial commitment from its own congregants, nor does it solicit donations. Instead, it is entirely self-sustaining, funding itself through intensive farming activities. In this way, KwaSizabantu provides a livelihood for more than a thousand people.
Through its industrious production of vegetables, yoghurt and bottled water, KwaSizabantu is able to support its ministry. Accordingly, those staying at the Mission do not pay for housing, water or electricity. As part of its free rehabilitation programme, those seeking assistance to overcome alcohol or drug addiction also receive free accommodation and meals.
KwaSizabantu provides bursaries, jobs, skills training, HIV care, community outreach projects and free youth conference facilities, as well as supporting other ministries. Its industries are not a money-making scheme, but a generator of funding for humanitarian and spiritual work.
Asking people to boycott products from KwaSizabantu, in order to financially collapse the Mission, is grossly irresponsible. It will affect the livelihood of thousands of families, including countless children who receive support from the Mission. The entire community will be negatively affected at a time when further economic distress just cannot be absorbed.
I am not saying that we must look the other way. And indeed, no one is looking the other way, for KwaSizabantu is now the subject of intense investigations.
We must support the women who have spoken to News24, giving gut-wrenching testimonies of sexual and physical abuse. We pray that the full truth will be revealed through the investigations that have now been launched by the police, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for the Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Linguistic and Religious Communities.
The allegation of money laundering is now being investigated by the Pietermaritzburg Serious Commercial Crime Unit. It will thus become clear with time whether there was any wrongdoing and, if so, who was involved. But until then, it cannot be assumed that the allegations are true.
I do not say this lightly. My wife and I sent most of our grandchildren to Domino Servite School, to be educated at KwaSizabantu. The school has a reputation for producing excellent academic results and, understandably, for being strict. It was precisely for these reasons that we chose it. Two of our grandchildren were in fact expelled for contravening the well-known rules.
My family is therefore personally affected. But I have been at the receiving end of allegations many times in my career, and I know how important it is not to act on partial information, assumptions and emotion.
For the sake of dispelling any false information, I want to make it clear that while I have worshipped at KwaSizabantu many times, and while I consider Reverend Stegen a friend, the Mission is a religious institution and not a political one. It has no political affiliation. Leaders from many political persuasions have enjoyed Christian fellowship at KwaSizabantu over the years.
And before anyone asks; no, the IFP does not receive funding from the Mission.
My family and I have received spiritual support, and advice on growing our own vegetable crop, for the Reverend Stegen and his team are successful farmers with much experience. KwaSizabantu has been a shining light of community development and industriousness in the province and in our country for decades.
It is therefore devastating to see this institution damned and damaged before anything has been proven in court. There are many lives involved here. We need to be sensitive to all of them.
The truth will emerge. Let us be patient and prayerful for everyone involved.
The Hon. Mr Mkhuleko Hlengwa, MP
IFP National Spokesperson
071 111 0539