Pick n Pay is the latest retailer to cut ties with the aQuellé water brand. This comes after the owners of the brand, KwaSizabantu, continue to face massive backlash following a News24 exposé alleging the KwaZulu-Natal mission is grossly violating human rights and abusing their church members.
KwaSizabantu is a Christian mission originally founded in 1970 by German preacher Erlo Stegen. One of its companies, Ekhamanzi Springs, supplied South Africa’s major retailers Pick n Pay, Makro, Spar, Shoprite, Checkers and Food Lover’s Market with aQuellé products. They also supply Woolworths, Checkers, Shoprite and Spar with fruit and vegetables.
In a series of reports, News24 accused the company of physically, sexually and psychologically abusing its church members, and money laundering for decades. They have victim testimony from six women, and the Hawks have confirmed an investigation is underway.
South Africa’s major retailers in response to the controversy, are pulling the brand off their shelves until the allegations are cleared.
In a statement, Pick n Pay spokesperson Tamra Veley told Business Insider: “We note that measures are now in place to investigate the serious allegations. Until these are resolved we will not be buying product from aQuellé.”
Pick n Pay joins the list of other retailers who have already removed KwaSizabantu products from their shelves. Woolworths, Makro, Game, Spar and Food Lover’s Market have cut ties with the KwaSizabantu businesses in late September.
“In light of the serious allegations in ongoing media reports, Massmart has suspended the sale of aQuelle water, which is manufactured by Ekhamanzi, pending the outcome of their own internal, and recently confirmed South African Police Services and independent third party, investigations,” said a spokesperson for Massmart, which owns Makro and Game.
“We are aware of the allegations against KwaSizabantu Mission and also its link to Ekhamanzi Springs, which supplies aQuellé products. We find the allegations most disturbing and we are taking it very seriously,” the retailer said in a statement.
Food Lovers Market called the allegations against KwaSizabantu Mission “most disturbing” and will not purchase items from aQuellé until the investigations conclude and the allegations have been proven false.
The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) is holding hearings related to the KwaSizabantu mission. Leaders of the Mission are expected to testify on Wednesday, October 7.