The owners of the aQuellé water brand, KwaSizabantu, are facing 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, supplies 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 certain fruits and vegetables.
In a series of reports, News24 accuses 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 with regards to the money laundering claims.
KwaSizabantu has since denied the allegations, calling it a smear campaign and “sensational, vicious and [of a] factually inaccurate nature”. They have appointed an external panel to investigate the allegations.
“This is not the first time false stories have been spread about the mission. The mission has always believed that turning to the courts is not the avenue of choice to stop the spread of false stories which undo the good work,” they wrote in a letter to its retail customers on Monday [September 22].
“However, given the severity of this attack, we have appointed an external committee consisting of legal, political, business and grassroots level individuals to investigate the allegations and publish their findings.”
Woolworths has since cut ties with the company. A spokesperson explains: “Woolworths has been made aware of the allegations against the KwaSizabantu Mission. Emseni Farming, our supplier, farms on land owned by the mission and, while the allegations do not implicate Emseni, we take allegations such as these very seriously and will offer authorities any assistance they may require. We have ceased all orders with Emseni Farming while we await further information from them.”
Pick n Pay and Makro have also reached out to the company for answers, and may pull the products depending on the response they receive.
Picture: Facebook / aQuelle