Torture claims rock the ZCC

Epilepsy sufferer found cut, emaciated after ‘evil spirits cure’

Notshe Ntshinka and Phumla Gotyana with their son, Sikhumbuzo, at Dora Nginza Hospital after his return from Mthatha
Notshe Ntshinka and Phumla Gotyana with their son, Sikhumbuzo, at Dora Nginza Hospital after his return from Mthatha
Image: Eugene Coetzee

A young, mentally challenged epilepsy sufferer endured weeks of torture – allegedly at the hands of so-called healers of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) in Mthatha who tied him up and deprived him of food for months.

Instead of ridding him of “evil spirits” as his family was led to believe, 23-year-old Sikhumbuzo Gotyana was found emaciated, and with cuts and bruises, after his parents were told last week to go and fetch him as he was ill.

Sikhumbuzo’s parents, Phumla Gotyana, 53, and Notshe Ntshinka, 65, from New Brighton, brought their son back home from Mthatha – where they had left him in October – and were shocked when they saw his skeletal state later.

He has been admitted to hospital and police are now investigating.

Several deep cuts to his hands, arms and ankles – which appeared to have been inflicted recently – were visible and he winced in pain as he sat in a wheelchair at Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth with his parents on Monday.

The ZCC has an estimated 16 million members in South Africa and is one of the largest church movements on the continent. Sikhumbuzo’s parents are members of the ZCC in Kwazakhele.

They said they had been told last year by a fellow church member about the Mthatha branch, where “healers” supposedly cured people said to be possessed by amafufunyana, or evil spirits.

In October, they drove from Port Elizabeth to the church in Mqhekezweni in Mthatha.

“We met with a healer called Tshangisa, whom we had spoken with on the phone,” Gotyana said.

“He said we must leave him [Sikhumbuzo] there and they will let us know when he’s fine and then they will call us to fetch him. “There were other people like Sikhumbuzo there, I think – about 10 or so.

“Tshangisa told us Sikhumbuzo will be given holy water to drink every day that will cure him of the evil spirits.” Gotyana said they had been told to pay R800 a month towards food for their son.

At the time, Sikhumbuzo was a healthy weight and was able to walk, sit and stand without any assistance, she said.

“We paid the R800 every month via Shoprite [money transfer services].”

Gotyana and Ntshinka admitted that they had not checked on their son in the seven months that he had been in Mthatha.

“We were told they were going to call us when he was healthy – I regret that we did not call them,” Ntshinka said.

Gotyana said: “On Friday, Tshangisa called me and said we must go fetch him.

“He said Sikhumbuzo was not doing well and had a runny tummy. ”

Ntshinka said: “When we got there on Saturday, Tshangisa was not at the church.

“There was another healer who told us Tshangisa had been offered a job somewhere and was no longer there.

“We saw Sikhumbuzo was not looking well – he had lost a lot of weight.

“But we did not see what his body actually looked like, only the bruise on his forehead.

“So when we eventually arrived home and saw the scars and injuries on his arms, we called Tshangisa.

“He said Sikhumbuza had been tied up with a rope because he was stealing other people’s food and was a nuisance,” Ntshinka said.

“I asked [Tshangisa], ‘But how can you do that to him, it’s not right’, but he said he was no longer at the church.”

He said Tshangisa had then ended the call. When a reporter contacted Tshangisa, he did not want to reveal his full name or confirm if Tshangisa was his real name.

We understand the victim was severely dehydrated in addition to his injuries
Captain Andre Beetge

“The last time I saw Sikhumbuzo was earlier this month when I was asked to phone his parents so they could go and fetch him.

“He had a runny tummy and the people there [at the church] said they’d had to tie him up because he was a problem,” Tshangisa said.

“He was [allegedly[ stealing food and stuff.

“No one is forced to come to the church, it is voluntary, so you can’t blame anyone for what has happened to [Sikhumbuzo].”

His parents said they were speaking out to alert the public to the dangers of referring epileptic and mentally challenged people to faith healers.

Eastern Cape health department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said: “People should take responsibility for their relatives, especially mental healthcare users.

“They should not take them to untrained individuals but to health facilities for assessment and treatment [and] stop the myths of believing their relatives may be bewitched.”

Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said police were aware of Sikhumbuzo’s case and that an investigation was under way.

“We understand the victim was severely dehydrated in addition to his injuries,” Beetge said.

“We will await the doctor’s report before taking any further action.”

Dora Nginza social worker Pamela Rubushe said there had been at least two other similar cases previously allegedly involving the ZCC.

“One was an epileptic [woman] who was rescued by a councillor in Kwazakhele to whom she ran for help after she was [allegedly] tied up and beaten [last year],” she said.

“In another incident, a teenage boy was allegedly assaulted at the ZCC in Kwazakhele early this year.”

The ZCC had initially promised to respond to detailed requests for comment by midday yesterday.

However, a church spokesman, the Rev Emanuel Motolla, did not respond to several calls, e-mails and messages sent throughout the day.