Bishop Zondo is a notable clergyman in South Africa. He is renowned as the founder and general overseer of one of the fastest-growing churches in the country – Rivers of Living Waters Ministry. Zondo has been a preacher since the 80s. He received his ministerial training from some of the best faith-based institutions in the world. However, his ministry has in recent times been in the limelight for a long string of allegations targeted at the founder himself. So far, the preacher has been under investigation by The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) for issues pertaining to financial exploitation of his congregants, rape, and even murder threats.
Bishop Zondo is a Native of Heilbron, Free Town
The South African clergyman who is widely acclaimed as the founder and general overseer of Rivers of Living Waters Ministries was born in Heilbron, Free State. Although the actual year in which he was born is not known, his birth month and day have been given as the 24th of January. It would interest you to know that Bishop Stephen Zondo did not come from a family of clergymen as his father has been described as a cattle rarer.
The acclaimed preacher’s earlier years were also not very pleasant as he had to battle hunger and malnutrition for many years. His family was not just managing to live but had to face oppression from the whites who usually kill all their livestock for trespassing on their land. In an interview in the past, the Bishop recounts how he lost 2 of his siblings during those hard times.
However, Bishop Zondo owes his freedom from both poverty and his childhood pains to the Bible. According to the preacher, the gospel of Jesus Christ changed his life and made it easy to forgive all those who had wronged him during his early years.
His Rise From Being A Farm Boy To A Renowned Preacher
When Zondo became a Christian, he was solely focused on making a difference in his community and was not initially interested in becoming a clergyman. However, he always admired the likes of Jimmy Swaggart and as a young man, he had pondered on the possibility of preaching like him and filling stadiums as Swaggart did.
Not too long after his conversion, Zondo would take his first steps in the ministry line by enrolling into a Rhema Training Centre located at Randburg from which he earned a Diploma in Theology. He is also known to hold Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Christian Education from different colleges as well as a Doctorate Degree from Christ the Lamb School of Theology. In 2013, Zondo was given the honorary title of Professorship, Doctor of Divinity and in addition to that, he has been consecrated to the Holy office of Archbishop, by The Interdenominational Theological Centre (ITC).
With regards to his church, Rivers of Living Waters Ministries, he started it sometime in 1988 in the 4 walls of his home, with just 3members – himself, his wife, and their son. When they began to increase in number, they moved to a school but that place soon became too small for the fast-growing congregation. Over the years, the church has had to change locations twice before getting its current site which can contain over 20,000 members. The church is also known to have more than 40 branches.
Bishop Zondo is Presently Embroiled in a Myriad of Allegations
For a while now, the founder of Rivers of Living Waters Ministries had been dealt several tongue lashes which cut across allegations of financial extortion, rape, and even murder threats. In one of such cases, it was revealed that his ministry will be selling a table at their gala dinner for R25,000. In their defense, the church came out to say that they were hosting the gala dinner in the hope of raising R100 million to enable them to build a community center.
With many other allegations circulating, the Bishop has come public to say that he has videos where people who claimed that they were being extorted or marginalized financially were thankful to God for giving and receiving. Zondo went on to emphatically state: ‘I am from the poor, I cannot mock the poor’ and pointed out that the people making such claims are angry folks who left his congregation. With regards to church funds, he also stated that they give for 3 things in their church, the first – outreach programs, the second – the church, and the third – the buildings.
Bishop Zondo is also being accused of raping nine people, of which one comes with charges for indecent assault and another for trying to buy and threaten his way to freedom. This public rape allegation which as of now is more than a year old was said to have first been aired on the radio by one Mofokeng in 2012 before its triumphant reentry in January 2020. In the broadcast, the lady claimed that she was not only raped but also bribed and threatened.
The Clergyman Has Some Reservations On How The CRL Commission Is Handling His Case
On breaking his silence after all the allegations were made in 2020, Bishop Zondo said he believed he was already being judged even before appearing before the commission charged to investigate him. He further expressed his doubt on if they were willing to give him a fair hearing and said that he would be expecting an invitation from the CRL Commission soon.
With regards to his case, the CRL is the prosecuting party and they are notable for their mission to foster the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their culture, religion, and language, and uphold values such as integrity, transparency, and professionalism amongst other things.
As of 11th of December 2020, CRL had gained the backing of a judge, who dismissed Bishop Zondo’s application to stop the CRL investigative hearings against him. The accused clergyman complained that the hearings left him embarrassed and exposed him to physical assault but this did not change the judge’s stance who stated that ‘a right to privacy does not give a right to secrecy’.
Prior to this investigation, it is also reported that the CRL Commission and Bishop Zondo first had a case in 2015 where the Bishop had to submit the annual financial statements of the church. From the look of things, the CRL Commission is on a mission to bear the truths about the Bishop and they have been on his tail for several years now.
What is The Outcome of All The Allegations Against Bishop Zondo?
On the 28th of May 2021, when the matter was transferred to the High court for trial, Bishop Zondo still sounded enthusiastic. In his words, “I am ready for the trial. I want the world to know the truth”.
More so, in the midst of all the chaos, it seems the clergyman still has very devout followers who believe in his integrity and continue to show their unwavering support to their leader. One of such persons even happens to be the aunt of the alleged victim who went to the radio station to publicize her ordeal. The aunt has a contrary story to what the young lady revealed about Bishop Zondo, stating that though her niece had informed her that she had been raped, it was not the clergyman that did it rather it was done by a gospel musician. She went on to say that her niece was fond of getting entangled with the wrong people and she can do anything to boost her music career.
As of now, the question still stands, what should we say when the one who is saddled with the responsibility of upholding societal norms and ethics is now being dragged into a pit of societal vices? Well, the court will decide on this as the trial will kick start on the 23rd August 2021 in the Gauteng High Court.