• Susan Puren

Mike Bolhuis & Kwasizabantu I

Nuuspod plaas in samewerking met Noseweek 'n reeks artikels deur Susan Puren, waarin sy die opspraakwekkende gebeurtenisse rondom Kwasizabantu en Mike Bolhuis se betrokkenheid daarby bespreek. Hierdie is die eerste deel van die artikels


Last year, in a series of reports, podcasts and a dramatized video broadcast online, News24 set out to expose the largest evangelical-fundamentalist Christian mission in KwaZulu-Natal as a cult that [thirty years ago – Ed. ] allegedly indulged in or condoned various forms of domestic violence and sexual abuse ranging from rape to virginity tests for children. At much the same time, celebrity private investigator Mike Bolhuis broadcast on Facebook that he had found evidence that some of the mission leaders were involved in witchcraft, drug dealing, large-scale financial skulduggery, and even murder. But it emerged Bolhuis is a con man. Many Noseweek readers may well not find the mission’s fundamentalist, authoritarian religion and lifestyle appealing, but tens of thousands of people that live in the surrounding hills choose to attend Sunday services in its vast auditorium. Volunteers from around the world who live on the mission provide free schooling for hundreds of children and for decades have run a free rehab centre for alcoholics and drug addicts. KwaSizabantu mission also happens to earn many millions and employ over a thousand locals in its lucrative farming operations and as producer of one of the country’s most popular brands of bottled spring water. In support of their damning view of the mission, News24 quoted affidavits they had obtained from some disaffected former residents of the mission. At the end of each episode listeners and readers were encouraged to insist that their supermarket stop stocking the mission’s brand of bottled water. Any act of rape or sexual molestation is shocking, but six in a row dramatically and graphically related – with emotional musical accompaniment –in the context of a Christian mission, must provoke still greater shock and outrage. Apart from our noting that these shocking events as dramatically recounted by News24 took place 30 years ago, they were so outrageous as to prompt the question: was the mission really somehow implicated in all of this? Noseweek reporter Susan Puren investigated with her usual thoroughness – and found that it wasn’t clear at all – and that there was another very credible side to the story that in all fairness needed telling. Read the first instalment of her story below and judge for yourself. As for Bolhuis, it did not take Puren long to establish Bolhuis is a conman and that he had not found any proof at all. As promised, Puren has continued her investigation, now taking a closer look at the accusations of financial skulduggery, witchcraft and murder. The plot, ladies and gentlemen, thickens. – The Editor

CHAPTER 1


News24’s seven-month investigation into the Kwasizabantu Mission, where a thousand rural people live and work, and many more thousands regularly attend religious services, produced a string of shocking allegations by a few disgruntled former members who accused the mission’s leaders of money laundering and operating a religious cult.

For additional impact, six women described incidents of physical and sexual abuse that they had allegedly suffered at the mission’s headquarters near Kranskop in rural KwaZulu Natal at one time or another in the past 30 years.

The allegations were repeatedly published online and in a dramatised documentary video, Exodus, which was released in September last year.

News24 editor-in-chief, Adriaan Basson, went as far as asking his readers to boycott the mission’s popular and hugely profitable bottled water, aQuelle, in order to “stop supporting a cult”. Several big retail groups responded by immediately removing aQuelle from their shelves and cancelling their orders for tonnes of the mission’s fresh produce.

Which prompted us to ask these questions:

· What were the possible motives of the media group’s sources?

· How much of News24 report and dramatised video was based on psychologically driven fantasy, hearsay or accounts of poorly remembered incidents that took place decades ago?

· Was the evidence sufficient to justify putting the economic survival of a thousand rural families at risk – quite apart from passing judgement on and then damning the religious beliefs of many more thousands of people?


Kwasizabantu (KSB) says its good name has been destroyed by “unfounded allegations”, which News24 and various other news platforms published over several months. It claims to have lost hundreds of millions of Rands in income and says the reputational damage to the aQuelle bottled water brand and the mission’s companies Ekhamanzi Springs (Pty)Ltd and Emseni Farming (Pty) Ltd,has had a devastating financial impact on the mission’s community projects and endangered the livelihoods of thousands of people.

Production lines at the mission’s various factories were severely affected, which in turn resulted in reduced working hours and loss of income for the companies’ more than a thousand rural employees who depend on the work to support their extended families.

To tell its story, News24 highlighted the alleged experiences of people who hadn’t a good word to say about the mission. Some used pseudonyms or remained anonymous and in the Exodus video the faces of a number of complainants were blurred.

“Very little information was supplied about the backgrounds of these so-called whistleblowers or why they had joined the mission in the first place. Did News24 investigate that as well?” asks KSB spokesperson, Dirk Combrink. “No, they just seized upon these sensational claims and vindictive testimonies which had one goal in common, namely to destroy the mission. None of these allegations would ever survive serious cross examination in a court of law.”

Yves Vanderhaegen, editor of TheWitness, the KZN daily newspaper closest to the scene of the action cautions Noseweek to keep in mind that: “Many of those that have found refuge at the mission have reached the end of the road: they have run out of options.”

Challenged by Combrink’s question and Vanderhaegen’s observation, Noseweek decided to dig into a few of the most disturbing allegations that News24 had tabled against the mission and to cross check the evidence they relied upon.

Were the dramatic revelations made in front of the News24 cameras just possibly attention-seeking distortions of the truth or even outright lies, as the mission suggests? Are the whistleblowers in fact pawns in a hostile bid for control of a mega-rich enterprise?Or is this a bitter family feud between members of the extended Stegen clan who were the founding members of Mission Kwasizabantu more than fifty years ago? What might the reasons be for people who have been part and parcel of Kwasizabantu for decades to now suddenly drive a mudslinging campaign against the mission?

THE VERY BEGINNING

The Kwasizabantu unhappiness started months before News24 became involved, when two theologians, Peet Botha and Koos Greeff, made their doubts publicly known about the gospel preached at Kwasizabantu and how the mission was running its finances. Both men are former missionaries who lived and worked at Kwasizabantu for many years but are no longer connected to its operations.

Peet Botha has a doctorate in New Testament Ethics and Hermeneutics from North West University in Potchefstroom. He and his wife left Kwasizabantu in 2019 after spending more than 20-years at the mission where Botha had served as a co-worker, minister and lecturer. His embittered opinion about the mission has been spread in no uncertain terms on his blog, The Missionary. One of his allegations against KSB is that it has no pension fund and medical aid for its employees and that the missionaries – such as himself – are not compensated for years of work spreading the word of God.

The second aggrieved theologian, Koos Greeff joined Kwasizabantu 40 years ago and played a pivotal role in its operations. He and his family left in 1994 and currently live in Klawer in the Western Cape where Greeff isa part time pastor of the Reformed Church.

He is the son-in-law of Friedel Stegen, an older brother of Kwasizabantu’s main founder-leader, Erlo Stegen. Friedel, along with his son Arno, his brother Erlo, Lydia Dube and Eunice Ngcamu served until recently as trustees of Mission Kwasizabantu, a public benefit organisation (PBO) that oversees all the outreach work and commercial business of the mission. The trustees are the leaders of the mission and Lydia Dube is one of two people left who were there from the time the mission was founded in 1966. She is closely allied to 85-year old leader, ErloStegen.

Friedel and his son Arno Stegen also held directorships at Emseni Farming and Ekhamanzi Springs, the companies that produce fresh produce and aQuelle-bottled water, but both men recently resigned from all their positions at Kwasizabantu and left the mission.

Documents in Noseweek’s possession show that Friedel had become increasingly worried about the finances of the companies and, shortly after his 92nd birthday in June 2019, gave special power of attorney to his theologian son-in-law, Greeff. This allowed Greeff to act as trustee and director, and to endeavour to find the answers to the questions that were nagging his father-in-law.

One of the first things Greeff did was to obtain the company’s financial records from its previous auditors. Thirteen days later he announced that he had proof that R136 million had been stolen from the mission over a four-year period starting in 2015, and that KSB trustees Lydia Dube and Eunice Ngcamu were well aware of the theft and had manipulated the ageing founder Erlo Stegen into co-signing false resolutions consenting to the alleged theft.

He went on to describe Dube and Ngcamu, as “corrupted leaders” who were linked to and involved with “witch doctors, drug dealers and hired assassins”.

Greeff told Noseweek that he had obtained financial support to hire Private Investigator Mike Bolhuis’s Specialised Security Services (SSS) to conduct a private investigation into the lost millions.

“It cost a lot of money to get Mike Bolhuis’s team to help us and within weeks we were able to release a report saying this is what we found.”

Bolhuis posted the findings on social media claiming his team had identified another suspect known as Moses Ndlela, but whose real name is apparently Canaan Ndlovu. The mission’s leaders, so Bolhuis declared, had arranged for the missing millions to be delivered to this new suspect, Ndlovu in tranches of cash, which were dropped off at isolated places under cover of darkness.

Bolhuis also stated specifically that Ndlovu had “cooperated” with the investigation, to the extent that he “revealed that he operated under the direct instruction of Lydia Dube”.Bolhuis promised his more than 12,000 Facebook-followers that the completed investigation would be presented at “police ministerial level” for a task team to deal exclusively with the case in conjunction with the Bolhuis squad and predicted “arrests should follow shortly thereafter”.

This Facebook post was picked up by the mainstream media and republished widely – but more than a year later no arrests had been made. Instead, both trustees Lydia Dube and Eunice Ngcamu have laid charges of crimen injuria (criminal defamation) against Greeff and Botha for accusing them of being involved with witch doctors, drug dealers and hired assassins.

When Noseweek asked Bolhuis in December last year for the final report of his findings he referred us to his investigator, Vaughan Schwartz, who, he said, worked on the case. Contradicting Bolhuis’s 2019 Facebook post that the suspect Ndlovu had “cooperated” with the investigation, Schwartz now told Noseweek that Ndlovu was in fact “not talking yet” and that he (Schwartz)had been unable to gain entry into the place where Ndlovu lived because the security guard would never allow him in without a warrant.

Both the disaffected theologians, Botha and Greeff had claimed in separate on-the-record interviews with Noseweek that the Bolhuis team did interview Ndlovu.

Greeff went as far as asserting that Ndlovu had “declared under oath” to the Bolhuis team that his instructions had come from mission trustee Lydia Dube. Greeff also claimed that the Bolhuis team has an audio recording where Ndlovu states that he was allowed to keep 10% of the allegedly misappropriated R136 million, and the remainder went to Lydia Dube.

But, when told that investigator Schwartz had told Noseweek that he had never been able to interview Ndlovu, Greeff was profuse in his apologies.

“No, no sorry,” he said “someone said it, I cannot remember now. Sorry,sorry!”

Schwartz later confirmed that he had no recording of a discussion with Ndlovu and had not personally confronted him. He said nobody from Mike Bolhuis’s company had interviewed Ndlovu and that they were “leaving that for the Hawks”.

Regardless of this admission and the pending criminal defamation cases initiated by mission trustees Dube and Ngcamu against Greeff and Botha, Schwartz was still adamant that Dube had been directly involved in the deal. “She controlled Ndlovu, where and how he collected the money. She was pulling the strings, ”he assured Noseweek.

KSB spokesperson, Dirk Combrink’s response: “This is a clear example of how Greeff and the Bolhuis team concocted a story to suit their version and, even today, they still do not distinguish between what’s fake and what’s fact.

“The media just repeated these so-called findings of Bolhuis and Schwartz without conducting their own research and the unsubstantiated Bolhuis version has just snowballed, even on European news.

According to Schwartz, Dube and Ngcamu had taken the mission’s money and transferred it to the bank account of a supermarket that is connected to the mission.

They then collected that same amount in cash from the store and handed it over to Ndlovu who apparently went from being a person without a cent to his name to someone with an estate worth around R15 million, businesses in the townships and a house valued at R4.5 million in an up-market estate.

“They were clearly converting traceable money to untraceable money. We call it money laundering,” said Schwartz. “They were just paying out money left right and centre and [while this] might not be the proceeds of crime but [it is]either tax evasion or theft.

”KSB spokesperson Combrink denied the money was the proceeds of crime or that the leaders were laundering money. He said it was a loan and that the cash was collected from the mission’s own businesses and handed over to the man they knew as Moses Ndlela.

“The mission assisted Ndlela(who had lived on the mission with his family for some time) after he approached the mission and indicated – like so many sinners who come to the mission – that he wanted to correct the wrongs he had done in his past, which included paying restitution where possible to people he had hurt. This allegedly involved terrible crimes like political murders,” he told Noseweek.

To expose his crimes and recover the evidence, Ndlela/Ndlovu allegedly told the KSB leaders he needed to involve specialised people to assist him. He also told them that his life was in danger as a result of him exposing his crimes and as such he continually needed financial assistance for security arrangements.

“The mission may have been conned by this man, but he gave us good reasons why he needed the money in cash. And after all, the mission’s money is used for the benefit and upliftment of society,” Combrink said.

Kwasizabantu has since laid a charge of fraud against Ndlela/Ndlovu with the Hawks.

The obvious question is what has happened to the 90% of the money that Ndlovu, according to Bolhuis allegedly paid to Lydia Dube? Neither Bolhuis, Schwartz, Botha nor Greeff are able to answer that question because according to their own investigations they could find no evidence that, mission leader Dube had come into money.

Declared Schwartz: “We checked all the obvious places; everything is fine, and her lifestyle is very mundane. We actually did a lifestyle audit and there is nothing untoward, her lifestyle is very humble, there is absolutely no evidence of money going that way.

”Even though the investigation found no trace of the money, Dube’s accusers are not willing to give up on what the alleged crook, Ndlovu, may or may not have told someone about her involvement in the missing millions. Bolhuis’s investigator Schwartz clings to the Boys’ Own fantasy that the cash was “stashed away in a place that’s almost like a treasure on an island or put into offshore investments or something to that effect”.

TURN TO THE MEDIA

Not getting the results Greeff had hoped for from the Bolhuis team and the many other institutions like SARS, the Human Rights Commission, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) where he submitted his complaints, it was time to turn to the media. Greeff admitted to Noseweek that he had contacted News24 editor-in-chief, Adriaan Basson and made an effort to find disgruntled former members of the mission who would tell Basson’s team of their bad experiences at the mission, some dating back 25 years or more.

Soon after, a completely different storyline emerged suggesting that Kwasizabantu was a cult that involved sexual and physical abuse.

“This was even though hundreds, ifnot thousands, of former and current members of Kwasizabantu werewilling to share their positive experience at the mission with the media group,” says Combrink. “But their stories were completely ignored.”

He referred Noseweek to the mission’s website where there are many testimonies from people who have lived and worked on the mission, were educated at the mission’s school, attended the restoration centre and turned their lives around after years of drugs, alcohol dependency, gangsterism and crime.

REPORTS OF RAPE

The media started reporting about alleged atrocities at KSB with an article in Rapport on 29 December 2019 under the headline “Isolated, raped – then she had to pray”.

The victim was a 29-year old former volunteer at Kwasizabantu who was not identified by name in the story. She claimed she was accused of being a Satanist and locked up in a room at the KSB-hospital where a man – a teacher and senior member of the mission – “raped her to release her from her sins”. Afterwards he was said to have read to her from the bible.

Four months after Rapport published the story, Cecile Schneider, the alleged rape victim’s former mentor at Kwasizabantu, received a WhatsApp message from her in which she apologised for what she had told the newspaper, claiming she had “listened to people who wanted to take the mission down”. In two further emails she referred to the people who had left Kwasizabantu who told her the mission’s co-workers would kill her, “…and that to help other people I must tell everyone I was raped and when I did they took that statement and gave it to the newspaper.” She went on to explain that she actually had a dream that she was raped and that Peet Botha’s wife, Andra, had convinced her that it really happened and wasn’t a dream.

“They talked to me until I gave in and went to the police. I know now I listened to the devil and I am sorry. Please forgive me. I was told if I evertold the truth I will be killed.

”Despite this apology and admitting that she had lied to both the police and Rapport, this same woman later appeared in News24’s Exodus documentary about the alleged horrors that were happening at Kwasizabantu. With her face blurred and using the pseudonym “Amanda” she repeated parts of the same story that had been widely published in Rapport and on other media platforms.

Noseweek has tracked “Amanda” down in Pretoria shortly after she was recently released from the Weskoppies psychiatric hospital where she had undergone treatment. While she confirmed that Koos Greeff had given her affidavit to Rapport she denied having written the two emails that were sent to her former mentor. She claimed her email address was different to the one from where the emails were sent. Noseweek found that the very same email address was used to create a profile for “Amanda” in her real name on the LinkedIn website. It has her picture and the information about her hometown and school is identical to her Facebook profile, which she herself has created. Under skills she mentioned “I love being a missionary”. However, “Amanda” claimed to have no knowledge of the LinkedIn profile or even the LinkedIn website.

Noseweek also established that “Amanda” has in fact a history of claims about being raped. Under her real name she has opened four different rape cases with the police since 2016: in Bronkhorstspruit, Pietermaritzburg, Jeffreys Bay and Pretoria. The four cases are not related; they reportedly happened at different places across the country and four different men were named as suspects. The Pretoria case was opened as recently as June 2020, shortly before News24’s Exodus documentary was screened.

When confronted with these anomalies, “Amanda” could not provide straight answers but admitted that she had indeed opened four rape cases since 2016. She claimed that she had told News 24’s senior journalist, Tammy Petersen, about the other rape cases she had opened, but the information was omitted because the story “was about Kwasizabantu”.

Petersen, the lead writer of the Exodus documentary, was not prepared to discuss why this information was omitted from the documentary and if she knew about the emails and “Amanda’s” other reported rape cases when she produced the programme. Referring to the rape allegations in the documentary Petersen said: “These allegations were of a serious nature and we took various steps to verify their authenticity before publication, including insisting on sworn affidavits about sexual abuse before publication.

”Peet Botha, who knows “Amanda” very well, told Noseweek that he and his wife only recently learned about the emails from an independent panel that was set up by Kwasizabantu to investigate the allegations against them. He admitted to knowing about her other rape cases but said he has doubts about her credibility and cautioned Noseweek that she was “a broken person with many issues, who tends to manipulate people”. It is not clear if he had offered the same adviceto News24.

Noseweek is in possession of a typed document that purports to be an affidavit made by “Amanda”, under her real name. She describes a horrific rape, which she says happened to her while she was hospitalised at the mission. While the “affidavit” is typed on a police letterhead and signed by her, the name of the person who took down the statement is not given and a commissioner of oaths did not verify the document.

It is most probably this document that Koos Greeff peddled to Rapport and News24 while, by his own admission, he has never met “Amanda” in person and only spoke to her on the phone once or twice. He told Noseweek: “I only reacted on the grounds of the information I receive from my sources.”

Noseweek also investigated two other allegations of rape that were highlighted by News24. One of them is the case of Greeff’s own daughter who has since made her true identity known on Twitter. Now in her thirties, and a medical doctor in the Western Cape, she used the name “Nelda” in the documentary where she told of her rape at the mission when she was 5-years old.

“Nelda” said a man “known to prey on little girls” had sodomized her at the KSB main campus some 30-years ago. He had offered her a red cooldrink and asked if she wanted to go for a walk with him.

“What I remember clearly is that he stuck his tongue in my ear and pressed my face flat into the ground, into the grass. I thought I was dying. The rest I can’t give details about. What I remember is that after that, my panty was soiled,” she said to News24.

This happened in the late 1980s and “Nelda” said she built up the courage only twenty years later to report the crime that was committed against her, which means she was around 25-years old at the time. Where she had reported it is not clear from her video interview but she also mentioned that she had told her parents when, at the age of 16, she “was finally able to put into words what exactly had happened to her”.

By then the Greeff family had broken ties with the mission but, she told News24, her father nevertheless reported it to the mission leadership and they called her attacker in. Nelda said as far as she knew there were no repercussions for the perpetrator who apparently admitted what he did to her and could not believe that she still remembered the incident.

In the News24 interview “Nelda” also remembered that before her rape at the age of five she was “thinking badly of children who this had happened to”. She could not recall a specific incident where she was told they were immoral. “But I know I was given the impression that they were slutty and had relationships,” she said.

In the Exodus documentary “Nelda’s” father, Koos Greeff, said he “knew of a large number” of women who were raped at Kwasizabantu,“stretching from the 80s till last year”. He claimed these women had gone to him for counselling. “If I know of so many, how many are there really? What is the real number? I’ve got no idea,” he is recorded telling News24.

But when Noseweek asked him if he had known about any rapes before he learned about “Amanda’s” case in 2019 he answered as follows:

“No, no, I did not know about rapes, ‘Amanda’ was the first one I know of.

”When reminded that one of the victims was in fact his own daughter he replied: “Yes, yes, sorry, I have forgotten of that. Yes, she was sodomised, yes, yes. Sorry, yes, I knew about it, sorry, I knew, yes.”

When asked how long after the incident took place he had heard about it, Greeff gave Noseweek a detailed but radically different version to the one offered by his daughter: the rape, he said, only became known when his daughter suffered from severe depression after the birth of her first child in 2012 and she started to remember while under deep hypnosis as part of psychological treatment.

They did inform Kwasizabantu in 2012 but by then the alleged perpetrator had died. Greeff told Noseweek he had spoken to two specific people at the mission; one being his father-in-law, Friedel Stegen who was still a trustee at the time. He said he did not tell Kwasizabantu’s leader, Erlo Stegen.

“Nelda” told News24 that she wanted to lay a formal charge but the police said the rape had happened too long ago. [The alleged perpetrator might just also already have died, if her father is to be believed. – Ed.]

The third alleged rape highlighted by News24 was the claim of a relative of the Stegen family, Chantal Engelbrecht, whose identity was revealed in the articles and the documentary. In the documentary video Engelbrecht’s husband, David, spoke on her behalf. Both of them made affidavits and Chantal laid a charge of rape with the police 35 years after the alleged crime. According to News24 journalist Tammy Petersen, this was one of the requirements to appear in the News24 documentary.

Now around fifty years old, Chantal stated in her affidavit that she had not yet turned 16 when a distant relative raped her in a sugar-cane field not on the mission, but on her grandfather’s farm some 70km from Kwasizabantu. She claimed to have reported the rape to her uncle, mission founder Erlo Stegen, shortly after it happened and, according to her affidavit, he called her names and told her not to tell her parents.

In her testimony before the independent panel that investigated the claims against the mission, Chantal said she allowed her alleged rapist to have sex with her on a number of occasions thereafter, but could not recall whether it continued over years or just months.

Omitted from her story as recounted by News24 is the fact that both Chantal and her alleged rapist lived outside of the mission and the farm where the rape allegedly happened is not part of Kwasizabantu.

Her alleged rapist subsequently appeared before the independent investigating panel and told them that he and Chantal were in a relationship from 1983 to 1986. It started when she was 13 and he was 20 but only became intimate in 1986. Contrary to Chantal’s evidence he said he reported it to Erlo Stegen, who called them both in but denied that the sex continued afterwards.

In their report the independent panel noted that the alleged rapist tried to present himself as having been the passive party in the relationship and that Chantal was the one who was actively pursuing him. “We found it unlikely that this was the case,” they said.

They also stated their difficulties with Chantal’s version of events and the contradictions between the story she had told them, her story to News24 and her affidavit.

“It is clear that Chantal and David also answered the clarion call from Mr. Greeff for anyone to come forward to the media with allegations about the mission. We find it reprehensible that such a serious matter should be used in a ping-pong squabble about the Mission’s finances. To use the alleged victims’ experiences in this manner only tends to re-victimise them. It does notget them the help and the justice they need and deserve.”

• The independent panel consisted of Adv. Kumbu Shazi, of the Durban Bar and Mr. Peter Le Mottée a Johannesburg attorney. Mr Le Mottée was member of the Methodist Church arbitration panel from 2003 to 2011 and is currently chairperson for the Scripture Union Regional Executive. Hearings were held in various places outside the mission. In their report released in November last year, the Panel found the mission is not a cult, but congregants follow the church leaders with blind faith. It also found no credible evidence of money laundering or of physical and sexual abuse.

• Another investigation by the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission has not yet been completed.

• Hawks spokesperson, Col Katlego Mogale said the police unit’s Kwasizabantu investigation is continuing.

• Noseweek’s investigation, too, is continuing. The evidence of the remaining three women who appeared in the broadcast video will be further investigated. And a lot more still needs to be explained about what became of the missing millions – possibly involving some important players that have not yet been mentioned.– Susan Pure

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