Prophet and Loss

For weeks Special Assignment has been investigating allegations of a bizarre cult operating around a fearsome prophet in a small town in Limpopo Province. What we discovered was a community split in two, in a charged atmosphere of religious fervour, jealousy, fear and rumour.

Makhado (formerly Louis Trichardt) has an astonishing number of churches. One of them is the “Abundant Life Ministries” led by Hennie van Niekerk. A former close confidant of his explains: “In the beginning we called him Pastor. Then he announced one day, ‘I am no longer Pastor, I am Hennie van Niekerk. And I am the Prophet.’ And he makes you believe that he has this special gift…’”

Over a decade van Niekerk built up a huge following in town. His services were charged with mystic zeal. In his presence and guided by his prayers, people say they saw magnificent visions and communed with God. Van Niekerk interpreted their visions and dreams. Slowly but surely he gained almost absolute power over every aspect of the lives of those disciples most committed to serving his ministry. They now say he used his power to intimidate, manipulate and terrify them.

Then a series of inexplicable and disturbing activities caused many of the flock to scatter. Former members of the congregation accuse their erstwhile leader of brainwashing and mind-control. Some former disciples have now come forward to explain how their prophet used the tools of confession and submission to break them down emotionally, physically and spiritually. He undermined their understanding of reality and everything they ever believed about Christianity.

It has taken van Niekerk-survivors years to rebuild their lives – some say they only started to experience healing 6 years after they parted from him. But now they want to tell their stories and warn others of the dangers of mind control and brainwashing at the hands of such a powerful figure.

This disturbing investigation was undertaken by award winning journalist Anna-Maria Lombard and was filmed by Byron Taylor.