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South African Bishop’s followers told they ‘would die or become extremely poor’ if they left

People who threatened to stop attending the Rivers of Living Waters Ministries church, led by South African pastor,  Bishop Stephen Zondo, were allegedly told they would die or become extremely poor.

This is according to testimony before the CRL Rights Commission on Thursday.

Witnesses said the threats came after they questioned certain practices at the church, which claims to have more than 10,000 members and more than 50 outreach ministries in South Africa and Botswana.

Several witnesses who appeared before the commission this week have made damning allegations against Zondo. These range from sexual abuse to the endorsement of divorce, financial exploitation and the use of supernatural evil spirits.

Zondo has not yet responded to the allegations but is scheduled to appear before the commission at a later, as yet undetermined, date.

Bishop Stephen Zondo of the Rivers of Living Waters Ministries.

sleeping with married women

A witness, who asked for her identity to be withheld, alleged to the commission that she had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Zondo, which affected her mind and marriage.

Another witness testified via video, as he could not attend due to being hospitalised. He alleged that he went from riches to rags after joining the church and being financially exploited. The man said he had been very close to Zondo at the time of being financially stable.

“He, too, gave a lot of resources to the church – to a point where he is now a pauper, bankrupt – and when we went to the church he claimed that he had resources,” said the chairperson of the commission, Prof Luka David Mosoma, after the hearing.

‘Red oil’ used to entice followers

The man also alleged that “red oil” was used and sold at the church to ensure that people were “hooked” and never left the church.

“The point he made was that a man at the church, a preacher … but this man preached about the use of oil, not for the betterment of the people but the use of oil to keep members. Of course he took the matter to the leader of the church [Zondo] to get it resolved, but this particular matter was not,” said Mosoma.

Several witnesses who appeared before the commission on Wednesday and Thursday broke down in tears as they shared traumatic stories of alleged abuse.

These included testimonies from two of Zondo’s family members.

The commission pledged to provide counselling services to the victims who had experienced trauma.

Mosoma said that there were allegations that the “red oil”, which was said to be addictive, was used to “hook in” congregants.

“The threat was that, in the event of leaving the church, they would die or become extremely poor. The use of the spirit of the dead … These are some of the allegations that have been revealed to the commission,” Mosoma said, adding that the claims had not yet been tested.

Zondo was also expected to testify at a date to be announced next week, according to commission spokesperson Mpiyakhe Mkholo.

“The names of the people who have been raised in the course of the testimonies are going to be summoned to appear before the commission soon,” he added.

Supporters encouraged to come forward

While the commission has only heard testimonies from victims, it said supporters of Zondo were also welcome to attend and testify, as the commission remained an independent body.

“We need to get as much information as possible. Even those who feel they have something to say in support of the bishop, they are free to come to us.

“We are objective and impartial. We serve the interest of every person who comes to us,” said Mkholo.

The hearings are expected to continue on Monday.

“There will be two people, whose names we won’t reveal now, who have themselves been practitioners of some of the things we were told about. They will be able to tell us precisely, from their own experience, what happened and why they decided to leave whatever practice they were in,” said Mosoma.

“It’s something that will add more to our understanding of these supernatural spirit of the devil and the dead – and how that realm functions.”

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