Before the day her mother, Esther, came home to burn her own and her two daughters’ ‘inappropriate’ clothing (men wear pants in the house, not women!) and their makeup and jewellery, Erika was a happy, carefree little girl. ‘I just remember good things,’ she says.
It was 1979 and Erika was eight years old, living with her family in a house in Worcester with yellow daisies in the front yard, which her father planted for her mother every time they moved house. She and her two older siblings, Hanna and Chris, spent their days playing, reading and learning. ‘I would walk to school and back, picking surings (sorrel) growing on the side of the road and eating the stems,’ she recalls. ‘My father called me “die familie se kurkproppie” because like a cork you push underwater, nothing could keep me down.’
All this changed the day her mother heard a man preach at Goudini Spa. She fell under the spell of the charismatic Erlo Stegen, leader of KwaSizabantu Mission. To her parents, he seemed like a saviour, but for Erika that meeting marked the start of a nightmarish 13 years living in an oppressive environment complete with public beatings, propaganda, compulsory confessions, and molestation at the hands of her counsellor, a man she admired.
Standing up to power
You may remember that in September last year there was a call to boycott aQuellé bottled water. Spar, Woolworths, Massmart (owner of Makro and Game) and Food Lover’s Market cut orders from suppliers of the water who were associated with KwaSizabantu (KSB). This was in response to revelations made by Erika and other survivors, who came forward with their stories of the alleged human rights abuses at the mission, including rape.
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