The leader of the Rivers of Living Waters Ministry, Bishop Stephen Zondo, stands accused of financially exploiting his congregants.
The CRL Rights Commission is holding a hearing into allegations against the bishop.
Speaking on Wednesday, one witness, Soenki Selepe, told the commission he joined the church in 2013 after experiencing marital problems.
“The reason I went was because of personal problems … I had tried everything and thought ‘let me try God now’. My marriage was on the verge of collapsing,” he said.
Selepe said he was financially stable at the time of joining the church and constantly made donations. This included buying sound system equipment for the church.
He told the commission he was then told he needed to see the bishop in person, but he had to buy two cows before that.
“I did not mind because I had the money. On the day I was meant to have a one-on-one session, I was told ‘you can’t see a man of God’ empty-handed. I was told to bring R10,000,” he said.
Selepe detailed how he and other members were forced to constantly provide financial support to Zondo. He told the commission congregants sponsored the lavish lifestyle of the bishop yet they did not receive any form of assistance.
“I needed answers, I kept on giving and giving to get the answers about my situation,” he said.
He alleged that the church generated money through dinners they hosted for which those attending would pay a minimum of R5,000. This was despite tithe and “sin” offerings.
Selepe said the church milked him dry and when he started questioning certain things and lost all his money, he was banished.
Another witness, Rev Andile Mali, testified he too was kicked out of the church when he ran out of money to donate towards the church and Zondo.
The commission also heard from a woman who identified herself as a biological sister of Zondo. She said her brother had caused pain for many families.
Bongi Zondo alleged that her brother was not running a church but rather a “cult”.
“I don’t know what has gotten into him … we are pained by the things he has done, all for a certain lifestyle.
“He must wear the orange overalls, like other offenders. He must feel the pain that he’s caused to many men and women,” said Bongi.
The hearings are ongoing.
Zondo is expected to appear on a date yet to be confirmed.
On its website, Rivers of Living Waters Ministries states it was founded by Zondo and his wife, pastor Seabi Zondo, in September 1988, at Zone 3 Sebokeng, in the Vaal triangle.
“The ministry started in their 4-room house with his wife and son (three people), to more than 10,000 members and over 50 outreach ministries in SA and Botswana. Together, they have touched the lives of millions around the world thorough various humanitarian projects, relief efforts, community service initiatives and record-breaking conferences,” the church says.
Describing him as “a bold, dynamic, powerful preacher”, the church says he regularly travels to the US, Canada, Germany and across Africa.
By Nonkululeko Njilo – TimesLIVE