Contrary to its earlier blanket denial around allegations of human rights violations levelled against it, the KwaSizabantu Mission on Friday conceded that individuals linked to the mission could have been implicated in wrongdoing.
In response to media questions sent by Weekend Witness, the mission spokesperson, Ruth Combrink, said it would render support to those who might have been victims of human rights violations.
“The leadership and the entire community of the mission take the allegations regarding incidents of abuse very seriously.
“Our hearts bleed for any individuals who have experienced the trauma and pain of abuse. This is closer to our hearts than many could imagine … we offer them our support and invite them to reach out to us in this regard,’’ she said.
In a series of News24 reports — supported by accounts from victims — information surfaced that some church members suffered physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
The mission’s latest response was a departure from its earlier stance where it accused former members claiming to have endured abuse at the mission of being used by forces opposed to the mission.
Major food retailers, Spar, Woolworths and Massmart, who previously procured their stock from companies linked to the mission: Emseni Farming which supplies vegetables and Ekhamanzi Springs which is the owner of the bottled water branch, aQuelle’, this week suspended their orders from the mission’s businesses.
Combrink, who is also the general manager for aQuelle’, said the mission firmly believed that any human being deserved to be treated with dignity.
“Obviously, this by definition makes violence against women and children totally unacceptable … the purpose of the work is to uplift and not to destroy.
“The mission simply can’t afford to be anything but completely transparent about something like the alleged abuse of women and children,” she said.
According to former mission members who featured in a News24 documentary, girls at the mission were forced to undergo virginity testing while those accused of violating the mission’s strict disciplinary code were expelled from school.
Combrink said that claims made in the documentary were contrary to the mission’s values and that an independent panel had been established to look into the allegations.