Maverick Life

PODCAST REVIEW

True-crime-like podcasts about lies and abuse in cults and the chilling story of the KwaSizabantu mission

Someone lifting hands up. Image: Alex Chernenko/ Unsplash

‘Was I in a cult?’, ‘Sounds Like a Cult’ and ‘Exodus’ explore the inner workings of cults.

What is it like to be in a cult? These three podcasts take the listener into the inner workings of organisations that are upheld by deception, control and manipulation.

Was I in a Cult?

  • Format: Podcast series
  • Year: Since 2021
  • Listen on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more.

Was I in a Cult? by iHeartPodcasts tells the stories of former members of various cults, documenting their journeys in dramatic, true crime-like fashion.

The show is hosted by filmmaker Tyler Measom and comedian and writer Liz Iacuzzi, both of whom draw on their own personal experiences and knowledge of cults for the show.

Measom and Iacuzzi centre their show on survival and survivors, taking a no-nonsense approach to cult life and cult leaders in particular. While they do incorporate the voices of those they speak to, they do not place blame on victims, but rather on the leaders, those at the very top who fulfil their agendas through manipulation, coercion, lies and abuse.

Through their conversations, they work through some difficult topics, but Measom and Iacuzzi are the perfect podcast pair. Measom’s experience in documentary making has clearly been used to create an informative and thorough telling of human stories, and Iacuzzi’s comedic insights offer lighthearted breaks in some tense moments, as well as encouraging a holistic view.

While the conversations can be difficult, and at times tragic and heartbreaking, there is a clear message of hope. It is possible to get out, and you are capable of building your own life in freedom.

***

Sounds like a Cult

  • Format: Podcast series
  • Year: From 2021
  • Listen on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more.

Sounds Like a Cult is not strictly about actual cults. Rather, it is a fun and witty examination of various social groups. Hosts Isa Medina and Amanda Montell produce the podcast framed by the idea that there are many such groups that operate in cult-like ways, and everyone is, to some extent, indoctrinated into some idea or movement.

The show is lighthearted and humorous but also contains some serious discussions about power and control and deception and manipulation. It’s a thought-provoking listen that encourages its audience to examine the ways humans group themselves and to question those who benefit the most.

Of course, not every group is in fact a cult, but the show has an interesting and unique approach to talking about society and culture.

***

Exodus

Format: Podcast series
Year: 2020
Listen on: Spotify, News24 and more

This South African podcast by Media24 follows their investigation into the KwaSizabantu mission in KwaZulu-Natal, airing the voices of those who got out of the alleged cult.

KwaSizabantu Mission on April 29, 2020 in Kranskop, South Africa.
KwaSizabantu Mission on April 29, 2020 in Kranskop, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/News 24)

The narrative is guided by the stories of Erika Bornman and Celimpilo Malinga, two women who grew up at the mission in the 1980s and 1990s. Bornman, who was sexually abused at the mission, eventually left, realising she would never be free until she did. Today, her mother remains a faithful follower at KwaSizabantu. When Malinga was 15 years old she was cast out of the mission after being accused of tempting a man. When she refused to repent, she recalls being beaten by her own father, watched by other leaders, and forced out with only the clothes on her back.

The show follows Bornman and Malinga from the beginning of their journeys at KwaSizabantu, which builds tension as the podcast progresses through its four episodes. The format also highlights how indoctrination is a slow but vicious process. Most people do not willingly join a cult, instead, deception can pull people in, wrapping its toxic tentacles tightly.

This podcast is extremely thorough in its unpacking of the KwaSizabantu mission and of its own investigation. The story is not limited to KwaSizabantu’s gates, but the listener will also hear how the mission’s influence has spread fear throughout the country. Host Nokuthula Manyathi’s own history with the mission, having grown up nearby, makes this story far more personal for South Africans, bringing it even closer home. DM/ML

For another show on cults, check out Sarah Hoek’s review of Guru here.

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