It was Zondi's 'choice' to brave media spotlight
Amid concerns about secondary victimisation, witnesses can choose not to have their evidence broadcast
Cheryl Zondi has become one of the first rape accusers to have her testimony broadcast live, and to face often invasive cross-examination in the full glare of the media spotlight.
Lead prosecutor in the Pastor Timothy Omotoso case, advocate Nceba Ntelwa, had opposed an application by multiple media houses to broadcast the case, in which Omotoso stands accused of keeping young female congregants of his Jesus Dominion International church in a house in Umhlanga, Durban, and sexually assaulting them.
“We were trying to protect the victims from their plight being advertised,” Eastern Cape National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Tshepo Ndwalaza told Times Select.
“Our primary concern as the prosecution is to ensure the victims are protected and that they are not subjected to any form of secondary victimisation.”
Under the court ruling granted by Judge Mandela Makaula, Ndwalaza stressed that witnesses can, however, choose to not have their evidence broadcast.
“If the victim doesn’t want her evidence to be broadcast, it’s fine, but Cheryl waived her right for privacy. Advocate Ntelwa spoke to her at length about her options in this regard and tried his utmost to make sure she made a decision that was right for her,” he said.
While Ntelwa has come under fire for not objecting more strenuously to the seemingly callous and invasive cross-examination that Zondi faced from defence attorney Peter Dauberman last week, Ndwalaza stressed that “there is a difference between questions that are insensitive, and questions that are unfair”.
“If the questions are unfair, you, as a prosecutor, will need to intervene to guard your witness. But you can’t protect your witness from uncomfortable questions. If you do that, you risk damaging the credibility of your witness and the accused can argue he did not have a fair chance to cross-examine her properly. That kind of issue can be raised as a violation of the accused’s fair trial rights in an appeal, which will obviously further traumatise the victim.
“Advocate Ntelwa knows the witnesses and believed Cheryl could handle the kind of questions she would face under cross-examination.”
Omotoso’s trial continues on Monday, when another witness is expected to take the stand. Ndwalaza said Ntelwa had met with the young woman, and, like he had with Zondi, sought to give her a sense of “both the positives and negatives” to having her testimony broadcast.
“He asked her to go home and talk to her mother before she makes her decision.
“He is very aware that they (the accusers) are young and this is a difficult decision to make. So it’s important for them to be as informed as possible.”
Ndwalaza says the NPA – and particularly Ntelwa – has done its best to emotionally support the Omotoso witnesses before they take the stand and tell their harrowing stories.
“As prosecutors, we always hope that when a sexual abuse accuser sees you, she sees hope. That we can give her faith in the justice system. That is what we are trying to do.”