Righteous rage: SA rallies behind Zondi in pastor rape trial
Her cross-examination was brutal, but her brave endurance has galvanised activists across the country
As Cheryl Zondi rapidly rises as the face of SA rape survivors, civil society has mobilised support for the young woman who has stoically faced unrelenting cross-examination following her testimony in the Timothy Omotoso rape case. Zondi, 22, has spent three gruelling days on the stand in the Port Elizabeth High Court intimately detailing her rape, allegedly at the hands of charismatic televangelist Timothy Omotoso.
She has also fended off a barrage of questions from defence attorney Peter Daubermann – many of which have outraged the public – about Omotoso’s penis size and how far she was penetrated.
On Wednesday, members of anti-gender-based violence campaign #TotalShutDown called on activists to mobilise outside the Bird Street courthouse.
They were joined in their cries by thousands on social media who pledged support for Zondi, with a poster sporting the Black Power Fist and Zondi’s name shared thousands of times online. #TotalShutDown regional spokesperson Gretchen Sudenie said the movement had been mobilising throughout the country to pledge solidarity with Omotoso’s alleged victims.
Sudenie said it was alarming to see the amount of support Omotoso and his co-accused were receiving, especially from women.
“We won’t blame the women. I love them and I know that they have been brainwashed and there is nothing one can do to change their state of mind,” Sudenie said.
Chaos erupted outside court on Wednesday when Omotoso’s supporters, who have been there in their numbers since the trial started last week, went head-to-head with members of the #TotalShutDown movement. The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) said it would approach the judiciary and the General Council of the Bar (GCB) to discuss the “unfair” treatment of rape victims in court.
Omotoso, Lusanda Sulani, 36, and Zukiswa Sitho, 28, face a litany of charges ranging from human trafficking to sexual assault and rape. They refused to plead, forcing the judge to enter pleas of not guilty on their behalf.
The 97 charges (63 main charges and 34 alternative charges among the three accused) are for crimes allegedly committed between 2009 and 2017 before Omotoso’s dramatic arrest at the Port Elizabeth airport in April 2017.
Below is a summary of what happened in court over the past few days.
Monday, October 15
The week was marked by gruelling cross-examination of the state’s first witness. On Monday, Judge Mandela Makaula reprimanded Omotoso’s legal counsel, Peter Daubermann, on several occasions because of the nature of the questions he put to Zondi.
At one stage Makaula stopped Daubermann from questioning Zondi about how deep Omotoso had penetrated her when she was only 14.
“How many centimetres, do you know?” Daubermann asked, to murmuring in the courtroom.
A clearly agitated judge interjected: “How would she know how many centimetres? How would she know that?”
“She could have felt it,” Daubermann replied.
The judge hit back: “I will not allow that question.”
Zondi had initially said Omotoso was cautious not to “go all the way” because she was still a virgin at the time.
This was followed by loud gasps and comments from the public gallery as Daubermann continued questioning Zondi about Omotoso’s actions.
But the judge cut it short: “I have been patient up until now. I will not allow you to ask unfair questions,” said Makaula.
But Daubermann accused Makaula of interfering in his questioning and said he would take the matter further as he felt Makaula was hampering his cross-examination.
Zondi, 22, a second-year marketing management student at the University of Johannesburg, remained confident throughout Daubermann’s cross-examination, but was visibly upset when he asked why she had not included details of the assault in her initial statement to police.
“I put it to you that you are fabricating your evidence,” Daubermann said to Zondi.
“With all due respect, that is one of the most absurd things I have ever heard in my life. I don’t know how this man [Daubermann] thinks. I was there,” Zondi said.
Tuesday, October 16
On Tuesday the court heard testimony from Zondi that Omotoso had told her how displeased God would be if she did not perform sexual acts on him.
Daubermann was questioning her on why she went along with the molestation, arguing that the pastor never coerced her.
“You, in your own words, you had been molested regularly and repeatedly for ... two years,” said Daubermann.
“Yes,” replied Zondi.
“He never forced you to do anything physically after that ... He also never coerced you,” said the pastor’s lawyer.
Zondi spoke loudly and clearly when she replied: “I disagree. He groomed a 14-year-old to be his sex slave. So that is why I disagree.”
“Is it not your version that he asked you to perform certain acts ... ”
“Commanded,” she said. “As I said yesterday, the man was very demanding. Every time I went up to him he would say, do something!”
“You basically consented by going ahead and doing it,” said Daubermann.
Prosecutor Nceba Ntelwa objected: “She was afraid of him. This question was answered long ago.”
Daubermann continued: “Every time you went to his room, you knew what was going to happen. You knew what you had to do.”
“I knew what to do.”
“You knew what to do on every occasion after that ... You didn’t protest at any stage – correct?”
“No, I didn’t ... He would say that God was not pleased with me. The man would say, Cheryl, you know what you are supposed to do to me and you are not doing them and God is not pleased.”
Zondi told the court that when she returned to the church in 2015 after initially leaving it in early 2013, she had told Omotoso she did not like what he was doing and asked him why he did those things to her.
“[Omotoso] said there was no other option,” Zondi said.
She told the court Omotoso had such an intense hold over her that she could not escape him even after being away from the church for two years.
“[That] is so improbable that it can’t possibly be true,” Daubermann told Zondi.
A confident Zondi replied: “It is a difficult case so I can understand if you are frustrated.”
After the lunch adjournment Daubermann presented video footage of Zondi at the church’s 2015 gathering in Port Elizabeth where Zondi spoke to the congregation, telling them she was happy to be back at the church.
“I thank God for this ministry and for this man of God [Omotoso].
“I pray my stay here inspires others not to leave this place,” Zondi said at the time.
She admitted that she had lied about her feelings at the time, saying this was because she still feared for her life.
Earlier in the day, Omotoso’s wife, Taiwo, was reprimanded by Makaula for interrupting court proceedings.
“Can you just tell the people in the second row‚ the lady with the colour-blind yellow thing‚ that she must stop making comments‚ that lady with the bright dress‚” a visibly annoyed Makaula said.
“She must stop making comments and gestures whilst this witness is testifying.
“The lady seated between the two gentlemen can you stand ... Ma’am ... can you please stop commenting and making gestures.”
Taiwo did not stand but raised her hand gingerly, to the bemusement of those in the public gallery.
Last week, graphic details emerged of how the 14-year-old girl was allegedly groomed to perform lewd sex acts on the pastor, who then prayed for forgiveness while reciting Psalm 51.
Zondi told the court how at first she was in awe of Omotoso but soon became disillusioned when she realised the sexual acts he allegedly made her perform were nothing more than predatory sexual assaults.
“He is a liar, an abuser – a predator who doesn’t care about anyone.
“He is narcissistic, thinking the world revolves around him, [and] expects to be entertained [by young girls],” Zondi said, fighting back tears.
Zondi, who said she was happy to testify in open court, detailed how at 14 she became involved in Omotoso’s Jesus Dominion International church after attending a national meeting in Durban.
Originally from Secunda, Zondi said her mother did not approve of the church, claiming it was too radical, took too much of her time, and that her behaviour had changed.
She remembered seeing Omotoso always surrounded by beautiful young women.
“In my mind, they were considered an elite group and because of their beauty they were always beside him.”
Back at home she had been approached by the appointed pastor in Secunda who informed her Omotoso had taken a liking to her and the way she sang.
Zondi said she was given Omotoso’s contact number and instructed to call and SMS him every day.
“[Omotoso] wanted to know my every move.
“He would ask about my family background, about my schooling.
“He would constantly be asking about my love life, how far I wanted to go with him, how close I wanted to be to him,” she said.
When she arrived for a national church meeting in Durban, she was informed that she would be staying with Omotoso at his home.
Zondi thought she would meet his wife and children but was instead met 20 to 30 other young women when she entered the house.
“[Omotoso] lay back leisurely on a couch in the living room and I saw all the girls going to him on their knees and hugging him to greet him,” she said.
The following day, Zondi was told by one of the other young women that all newcomers had to have a one-on-one meeting with Omotoso in his upstairs office.
Zondi recalled the room was dimly lit with closets on either side.
On one side, she noticed a gap which led to Omotoso’s bedroom where she found him in bed, under covers, wearing an unbuttoned shirt.
She said she entered the room and knelt down beside the bed to greet Omotoso, who then instructed her to sit next to him.
Confused by the litany of questions Omotoso was asking her, Zondi got up to leave but he allegedly also got up, stood in front of her and hugged her tightly. “His hands moved around my back and he pulled on my bra strap and then he pushed me onto the bed and then he [climbed] on top of me on the bed,” she said.
“I was in such shock, I was paralysed.
“He [climbed] on top of me and started fondling me.
“He was having the time of his life, laughing while he was doing this.
“He got up when he was done, he looked at me and saw that I was upset.
“He asked me what was wrong, in his dominating voice – I was so scared I said nothing.
“He said I must come see him later that day.”
Zondi was summoned later that day back to the upstairs room, where she was allegedly instructed to join Omotoso in bed. She obeyed.
“When I got into the bed, he was busy fondling himself ... He told me to be free to do whatever I wanted to.”
Zondi said Omotoso continued fondling himself and told her to take off her head scarf as it made her look old.
He then allegedly instructed her to take off her clothes.
“I was now naked with the man I thought was a man of God,” she said.
“When he saw I wasn’t doing what he wanted me to, he [climbed] on top of me without his shorts on.”
He then allegedly sexually assaulted her. The next morning when he awoke, Omotoso prayed and recited Psalm 51 “and asked God to forgive us”, Zondi said.
“He told me I better not tell anything because a man of God can’t go to jail.”
The matter has been postponed until Monday.
- The Herald