A staff member at the Makro Woodmead store removes bottles of aQuellé water from shelves. Massmart on Tuesday suspended sales of the product following serious allegations against the owner of the branded water.
- KwaSizabantu and its affiliated businesses were in the eye of a storm on Tuesday.
- This after a seven-month News24 investigation into allegations of human rights abuses and financial crimes at the mission.
- Investigations have been launched and major retailers suspended business with the mission.
News24’s extensive exposé on allegations of abuse and financial crimes at the KwaSizabantu Mission resulted in the mission experiencing a sharp backlash from all angles on Tuesday.
News24 revealed allegations of sexual assault and physical and emotional abuse by the mission’s leaders and some of its followers.
The investigation also revealed allegations of money laundering through the mission’s affiliated companies – Ekhamanzi Springs, which owns aQuellé, and Emseni Farming, which supplies fruit and vegetables to major retailers.
The response to the reportage has resulted in investigations being launched and retailers cutting ties with the mission.
Here is what happened:
Major retailers cut ties
On Tuesday, major grocery retailers such as Spar, Woolworths, Game, Makro and Food Lover’s stopped doing business with the mission and its affiliated companies.
Woolworths was first to announce that it would stop buying products from the mission and its companies as it waits for more information about the allegations levelled against KwaSizabantu.
It said it takes the allegation against Emseni Farming very seriously and “will offer authorities any assistance they may require”.
Spar followed suit, suspending orders from Ekhamanzi Springs and Emseni Farming and deciding not to place new orders.
Makro, Game and Food Lover’s were next to announce its decision to suspend their business with the mission, as Makro staff were seen removing aQuellé beverages from its shelves.
Massmart, owner of Makro and Game, confirmed it had suspended its business with the mission’s companies “in light of the serious allegations in ongoing media reports”.
This has been done pending the outcome of an internal investigation by Ekhamanzi Springs, as well as the police and “third party” investigations.
Food Lover’s said it found the allegations “disturbing”, and added that it had reached out to aQuellé to respond to the allegations detailed in News24’s exposé.
“Any action we take in this matter will be determined by the response from aQuellé, as well as the outcomes of the police and civil investigations into the matter,” the retailer said.
Both the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) confirmed they would be launching their own investigations into the allegations.
Chairperson for the CRL Rights Commission, Professor Luke David Mosoma, urged anyone directly affected by the alleged human rights abuses at the mission to come forward and assist with the investigation.
Mosoma said the News24 exposé was the first time he heard of “cultic activities” taking place at the mission.
“After reading and seeing it, I have asked that we investigate this and urge eyewitnesses to come forward, so that we can do this [investigation],” he said.
The SAHRC said it had engaged its office in KwaZulu-Natal to investigate the matter, according to its CEO advocate Tseliso Thipanyane.
He added that the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government had launched its own investigation into the “cult”.
“What is concerning for the commission are the human rights violations conducted in the name religion.
“The SAHRC respects the right to freedom of religion, opinion and belief; however, this right cannot be exercised in blatant contravention of human rights as has been alleged in this matter,” Thipanyane said.
aQuellé appoints own investigation team
In a letter to its retail clients, seen by News24, aQuellé slammed the publication’s reportage as “sensational, vicious and [of a] factually inaccurate nature”.
It added that while it is not the first time “false stories have been spread about the mission”, it decided to appoint a multidisciplinary panel to investigate the allegations and publish its findings, given the “severity of this attack”.
“[W]e have appointed an external committee consisting of legal, political, business and grassroots level individuals to investigate the allegations and publish their findings,” it said.
It further denied that the mission was a cult, saying it aims to uplift communities rather than benefit a few people.
EXODUS | What is KwaSizabantu Mission?
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article and you need someone to talk to, please contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) on one of these numbers:
To speak to a counsellor between 8am and 8pm Monday to Saturday, phone 011 234 4837
For a suicidal emergency, call 0800 567 567
For the 24-hour helpline, call 0800 456 789.
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