Bullets and hellfire: fighting sex-pest pastors
But the horror stories are taking their toll on activists leading the fight against sexual abuse in churches
Two activists leading the fight against pastors who allegedly abuse their congregants have become all too familiar with being threatened by church loyalists.
But for Nigerian Christian activist Solomon Izang Ashoms and gender activist Pamela Mabini, the past few weeks have brought some vindication as Pastor Timothy Omotoso faces charges of kidnapping, rape and racketeering in the Port Elizabeth High Court.
For 10 years Ashoms has been fighting against pastors who allegedly promise wealth in exchange for poor people’s money.
He has faced death threats, been taken to court for defamation and been told on Facebook that he will go to hell. “I thought maybe I should stop speaking out. [But] I knew what the truth is. I couldn’t stop.”
Because he is known in church circles, Ashoms has been approached by many victims of abuse, including women who allege they were sexually abused by Omotoso, leader of the Jesus Dominion International church.
Ashoms put them in touch with Mabini, who is based in Johannesburg and, as a volunteer, educates teenage girls about sexual abuse, “sugar daddies” and fostering healthy relationships with other girls and women.
In 2016, a friend who had attended Jesus Dominion International told her about women who were allegedly being sexually abused by Omotoso.
She got to know more than 10 of the women and put them in touch with the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL), which counselled them.
Her involvement allowed many of the women to tell their stories, which led to an investigation by the Hawks that resulted in charges being laid against Omotoso. But she has been shot at and allegedly offered R2m to keep quiet.
“Leave daddy alone,” an armed intruder warned Mabini in May, before firing two shots at her in the garden of her family home in Kwazakhele, Port Elizabeth. Fortunately, he missed. It is widely known that Omotoso is referred to as “Daddy” by those who report to him. Last year, Mabini claimed she was offered a R2m bribe at a meeting in Sandton to tell the women to “back off”. She declined it.
She said she reported the bribe attempt to the Hawks.
“I am a straight talker. I hate men who abuse women.”
Mabini has heard the same story many times. Attractive women, who sang well and didn’t know their fathers would be flown to Omotoso’s house, where they believed they were auditioning for a career in music.
Instead, “recruiters” who worked at his home would allegedly “instruct the women how to satisfy the man of God” when they were called to his bedroom.
Two years ago, Mabini connected with Ashoms. “We clicked. We are fighting the same thing.” The pair now work together.
They have reported a Ghanaian pastor to police for allegedly raping underage girls from his congregation. He was arrested, but is on the run.
This week, Ashoms encouraged another woman who was allegedly raped by a pastor from Nongoma, in KwaZulu-Natal, to open a case. She claims she was drugged by her “spiritual father”, raped, fell pregnant and chose to terminate the pregnancy.
Ashoms said he received calls almost daily from people who shared stories of rape by pastors in SA.
The horror stories are beginning to affect him, he added. Meanwhile, Mabini, who has been advised by the CRL to see a psychologist, said: “I am so down. I am emotionally and physically drained. It is affecting me. It is heavy hearing such cases.”
To support his alleged victims, Mabini has been present at Omotoso’s trial in Port Elizabeth since it began.
Describing how Omotoso’s wife, Taiwo, laughed in court during Cheryl Zondi's testimony, Mabini said: “She has acted like the girls are lying. They are young girls in pain.”
Watching the trial on television from Johannesburg last week, Ashoms started to cry: “This is it. This it.”
He feels he has been “vindicated” after 10 years of speaking out about pastors who abuse their vulnerable congregants.
Ashoms has challenged pastor and self-proclaimed billionaire Alph Lukau, calling him a false prophet.
He was enraged last year when Lukau charged R5,000 for an all-night prayer vigil and promised women who attended they would find a husband in three months.
In May last year, the Johannesburg High Court ordered Ashoms to stop publishing defamatory comments about Lukau, his wife or his church.
A few months later, Lukau posted a picture of a Rolls Royce he received for his birthday. “I would like to thank my spiritual sons and a precious daughter who gifted me with this beautiful Rolls Royce Wraith (a top class toy),” he posted.
Ashoms responded with a Bible verse and question: “Should Christians give to rich pastors?”
Johannesburg High Court judge Majake Mabesele found Ashoms to be in contempt of court and sentenced him to 20 days’ imprisonment‚ suspended for two years.
In January last year he and his wife were inundated with calls from as far afield as Namibia, Zambia and remote parts of SA insulting and threatening their family.
Ashoms also led the False Prophets Must Fall protest in March.
If Omotoso is found guilty, Ashoms says he will take his family to Port Elizabeth to witness his sentencing. “It's about justice.”
Mabini says she wants the women who were allegedly abused by Omotoso to know their future can be bright. “They told them they would have no life outside of Omotoso, that if they left him, they would be nothing. But they have got a life. They are still going to go far.”