- A former pupil at KwaSizabantu Mission’s Domino Servite School told the CRL Rights Commission that he and many others suffered human rights violations at the school.
- He canvassed a plethora of past pupils and compiled detailed evidence to the commission, which is investigating allegations levelled against the mission.
- He alleged that girls and boys were sexually violated in various ways.
Allegations of severe abuse, torture, sodomy, rape and virginity testing at KwaSizabantu Mission’s Domino Servite School (DSS) have been outlined by a witness who testified at a CRL Rights Commission probe into the mission.
Sibonelo Cele, a former pupil at the school, compiled a presentation, representing a group of past pupils, former workers, preachers, and visitors at the mission, and presented it to the commission in Durban on Wednesday.
He said the people he represented included some who joined KwaSizabantu in the 1960s, when it was formed, as well as those who were part of the mission as recently as last year. He claimed to also have the ear of current residents.
Like many before him, Cele outlined serious allegations of rape and sexual abuse.
“We are aware of, and in fact, [there] are victims of many instances of sexual abuse that happened at KwaSizabantu. These allegations came to my knowledge directly from victims, who are afraid to have their ordeals known to the world and their children out of shame.
“In addition to the sexual violation’s odious nature and the stigma it comes with, this fear is exacerbated by an oppressive response from KwaSizabantu authorities. When these crimes were reported to the mission leadership, they were covered up, or the victims themselves were blamed and expelled from the mission and/or the school.”
He alleged that in most instances, “proper medical care was not provided – and the rapes and sexual abuse were not reported to the authorities”.
That rapes and sexual abuse took place is beyond dispute. Two important issues are of concern. [The] first is the response of the mission when it receives reports. Second is the admission and release of unrehabilitated drug [abusers] and offenders among mission residents.
He said the pupils at the DSS were mercilessly tortured.
“In the years of its existence [it] has allowed certain male individuals to exercise the authority of boarding masters. Some of these individuals mercilessly tormented young boys and girls alike. This included forcing girls to reveal their thighs and beating them.
“One of these individuals arranged young boys into a choir and sodomised them. When this was brought to the attention of school authorities at DSS and Mr Erlo Stegen, he dismissed the reports as a detraction of the good work of the Lord. When KSB later found out, they quietly removed him from KSB and never assisted the traumatised schoolboys.”
Corporal punishment was a norm
Cele said that despite KwaSizabantu Mission’s statement that corporal punishment was abolished in 1996, pupils at the DSS “continued to receive corporal punishment well beyond 1996”.
This was carried out by subterfuge. Parents were compelled to give parental authority to KwaSizabantu to administer corporal punishment if they wanted their children to continue schooling at the mission. Alternatively, DSS will expel the child for even inconsequential misdemeanours.
“Beatings were administered with a plumbing plastic pipe. Often you did not know how many lashes you were going to get. Furthermore, these would be for nebulous conduct such as an allegation that you are obstinate, bad influence, walked cocky, or you have not confessed sins in a while.”
Cele described one assault involving a co-worker’s wife who was allegedly beaten for infidelity:
One assault that stands out was carried out on a co-worker’s wife by other female co-workers because she had disgraced female co-workers by getting involved in an extramarital relationship. A similar assault was not meted against the implicated male co-worker. This illustrated sexism in practice.
He added that racism and virginity testing were also rife at the school.
“We have, in response to a questionnaire, confirmed that – the act of ‘virginity testing’ was widespread at DSS; and that it was discriminatory in terms of race and sex; only African girls were tested.”
Cele said some of the girls were far too young.
“Only girls who have reached the age of puberty may be tested. Girls as young as five years old would have their private parts ‘inspected’ as a condition for their continued presence at the school. We assert that this was racist, sexual, and emotional abuse.”
Responses to a questionnaire he provided to past DSS pupils, including those who attended the school after 2002, confirmed they were subjected to virginity testing “which they found repulsive and demeaning”.
Cele also accused the mission of “militarising children in the 1980s during the height of the apartheid era”.
KwaSizabantu must account for the receipt of funds, equipment, vehicles and unlicensed firearms in return for violating the sanctity of confession – in other words, by giving up people who were opposed to the apartheid regime.
He said the mission tortured former freedom fighters.
“The mission participated in demeaning and inhumane interrogation, poisoning, and killing of ex-freedom fighters.”
He further accused the mission of enlisting schoolchildren to fill envelopes with objections during the Ja/Nee Referendum on ending apartheid, held in South Africa on 17 March 1992.
“We believe it is the duty of the duly appointed legal entities to investigate these practices and, where applicable, seek justice for the victims of these crimes.
“It is time for the KwaSizabantu Mission’s leadership to acknowledge everything that has been revealed to date and will continue to emerge in the future. However, their continued denial and dismissal of all the serious allegations that have emerged give us no hope that justice can be done without outside intervention.”
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