News24 podcast investigates cult, receives overwhelming response
Ideas Blog | 04 April 2022
Proving the power of a podcast is only as strong as its people, News24 used its investigative prowess to uncover an alleged cult in South Africa.
Listening to and sharing first-hand accounts from two former members of the KwaSizabantu Mission, News24 exposed allegations of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse by the mission’s leaders and senior members.
During the seven-month investigation, News24 was able to share the first-hand accounts of Erika Bornman and Celimpilio Malinga, both of whom moved to the mission as adolescents. News24 also learned of further allegations of abuse from six other former members who agreed to sign affidavits about what they were sharing.
To cover this sensitive and sensational story, News24 decided to launch a podcast called Exodus: Uncovering a cult in KwaZulu-Natal as a four-part series that was only available to News24 subscribers. It made trailers for each episode that were available for free to the public and garnered 30,000 views on YouTube.
The podcast walked listeners through not only allegations of abuse, but exposed an alleged money laundering and fraud scheme that, by News24’s account, amounts to 150 million rand (roughly USD$10 million) over a period of three years.
News24 also launched a special Web site that expanded the readers’ knowledge by offering a short documentary, access to the podcast series, and an in-depth look into money laundering allegations — including stories of cash packed in coolers and flown by plane to wealthy areas of South Africa.
Some of the most compelling content on the site includes survival stories from the eight former members News24 spoke with. Google Analytics showed the special site brought in 1,724,867 page views from 451,700 unique visitors.
Within two days of publishing the investigation, News24 received so many messages from listeners, filling the company’s inbox with more memories of what life was like for them at the mission. Former members described it as a cult where Christiantity was used to justify abuse and where rapists and criminals walk free. The podcast series saw 4,000 views on News24’s audio platform.
As a result of the investigation, the mission is now being investigated by police, civil society institutions, and government regulatory bodies. Those investigations are ongoing.
Major commercial partners to the mission have also severed ties and pulled products owned and supplied by the mission, like a popular brand of sparkling water and fruits and vegetables, from store shelves.
Mission leaders have denied the allegations brought against them, however they formed a two-person panel of lawyers to investigate the claims. Their report stated the mission is not a cult, but said members simply have “blind faith” in its leader. The mission and the two-lawyer panel refused to provide a copy of the report to News24.
Mission workers also went on strike following the investigation to protest what they called unfair dismissal of workers and low wages.