The biography of Erlo Stegen, the founder and director of KwaSizabantu Mission, a Christian mission station in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He was a pioneer, missionary and revival preacher who devoted his life to serving God and the Zulu people. He died on September 27, 2023, at the age of 88.
Erlo Stegen Early Life
Erlo Hartwig Stegen was born on March 2, 1935, on the Mbalane farm near Durban, as the fourth of Irmgard and Carl Stegen’s six children. He was of German descent and had historical family ties to the Hermannsburg missionaries who came to South Africa in the 19th century.
Stegen had a lively and adventurous personality but also suffered from several accidents and illnesses that left him with recurring headaches. He attended school until grade 10 and then joined his father’s farming business. Stegen was raised in a Lutheran church, where his father was a chief elder for over 27 years. However, he felt dissatisfied with the formal and ritualistic religion he experienced there. The fervent boy yearned for a personal relationship with God and a deeper understanding of the Bible.
In 1954, Stegen attended a youth conference in Pretoria, where he heard a sermon by Reverend Fred Roberts that challenged him to surrender his life to Christ. He responded to the altar call and experienced a radical conversion that changed his life forever.
Stegen felt the calling to minister especially to the Zulu people living in poverty and oppression under the apartheid regime. He started travelling as an evangelist among the rural Zulu communities, preaching the gospel and distributing Bibles and tracts.
In 1966-67, The preacher witnessed a powerful revival that swept across the Zulu population. Thousands of people repented of their sins and received healing and deliverance from demonic oppression. He also saw many miracles, such as rain falling in drought-stricken areas, blind eyes opening, deaf ears hearing, and lame people walking.
He attributed this revival to his belief in the divine authority of the Bible and his prayer that “he who believes in Me as the Scripture has said, out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
In 1970, Erlo Stegen founded KwaSizabantu Mission (meaning “the place where people are helped”) on a piece of land donated by a farmer named Mr. Potgieter. He envisioned it as a place where new converts could receive discipleship, training, and practical help.
He worked with his wife Kay (whom he married in 1968), his co-workers, and hundreds of Zulu believers who settled on the mission station. They built houses, schools, clinics, churches, workshops, farms, and factories on the land. They also established various ministries, such as radio broadcasting, literature distribution, drug rehabilitation, AIDS care, orphan care, education, health care, agriculture, and business.
The mission grew rapidly and attracted millions of visitors from South Africa and abroad. Many people came to seek spiritual guidance, healing, deliverance, or assistance from Stegen and his team. The mission also expanded globally and started various outstations in Europe, Asia, America, Australia, and Africa.
Erlo Stegen’s preaching style was marked by boldness and conviction. He confronted sinners with their need for repentance and forgiveness. He also taught on topics such as holiness, obedience, confession, restitution, reconciliation, revival, and the Holy Spirit.
Stegen became renowned for his love, warmth, generosity, compassion, and prayerfulness. He cared for the hungry, the sick, the needy, the oppressed, and the mourning. He also gave away Bibles, food, clothing, water bottles (produced by aQuellé), and other resources to those in need. The preacher also supported various causes and projects that aimed to uplift the poor and marginalized communities.
Erlo Stegen Controversies and Criticism
Despite his popularity and influence, Erlo Stegen also faced opposition and criticism from various sources. Some of the controversies surrounding him are:
- Stegen was accused of being a cult leader who abused his power and authority over the mission and its members. Some of his own family members broke away from him and exposed his alleged misconduct and mismanagement of funds and resources.
- He was accused of being involved in human rights violations, such as sexual abuse, physical violence, psychological manipulation, and forced labour at the mission. Several former members came forward with their stories of trauma and suffering at the hands of Stegen and his associates.
- The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission) investigated him and found no evidence of criminality but ordered him to apologise to the victims and make changes at the mission.
These controversies soiled his reputation and legacy and raised questions about the validity and integrity of his work. However, some of his supporters and followers defended him and praised him for his humanitarian and spiritual contributions.
Death and Legacy
Erlo Stegen died on September 26, 2023, at the age of 88. He had been suffering from dementia and other health issues in his later years.
Stegen left behind his wife, four daughters, 15 grandchildren, and a large spiritual family. He also left behind a massive mission enterprise that included multimillion-rand businesses such as aQuellé and Emseni Farming.
He was hailed as a musical genius, a visionary, and a legend who inspired many people with his talent and charisma. Some also remembered him as a pioneer, missionary, and revival preacher who devoted his life to serving God and the Zulu people.