‘My truth needs to be told’: Cheryl Zondi won’t back down
She says she is ready for another round of 'victimisation' in the pastor Omotoso trial because of the confidence SA has shown in her
Global support from people far and wide helped Cheryl Zondi – star state witness in the rape and human trafficking trial of controversial pastor Timothy Omotoso – pluck up the courage to take to the stand again after the presiding judge recused himself from the case.
On Tuesday, Zondi held a media conference in Johannesburg where she announced she would continue with the trial.
“I have a responsibility to the nation that has supported me from beginning. I have the responsibility to live up to the confidence this nation has in me.
“There are people who are waiting for me to give up, but I will not give up,” she said.
Speaking to Times Select’s sister publication, The Herald, after her announcement, Zondi said it was all the support she had received since first taking the stand in October 2018 that made her decision easier.
“It has been ridiculous the amount of support I have received. There is some weight on my shoulders and it is a bit difficult living up to what people believe in me,” she said.
Asked how she felt about Port Elizabeth High Court Judge Mandela Makaula’s decision to recuse himself, Zondi said this had been at the back of her mind since Omotoso’s attorney, Peter Daubermann, brought an application for his recusal.
That application “planted the seed in my mind”.
“When [Makaula] made his announcement, I thought, oh no. I didn’t want to go through that ordeal again.”
Zondi revealed that to some extent she was angry about Makaula’s decision, but had realised his “objective point”.
Makaula officially recused himself on Friday because his wife owned a guesthouse where state witnesses in the case stayed. He said his decision was not due to an application by the defence, but to prevent potential perceived bias in the future.
Since her first experience on the stand testifying against Omotoso and his two co-accused, Zukiswa Sitho, 28, and Lusanda Sulani, 36, Zondi said she felt stronger because of the growing support she had received.
“At the end of the day it needs to be done. It is a very intimidating process [and] it has been exhausting, but I am confident in my truth, which needs to be told,” Zondi said.
In an unprecedented move, Zondi decided to testify in an open court, with the trial being broadcast live on national television.
“The funny thing is that I didn’t know it had not been done before. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me,” Zondi said, referring to her decision to testify in an open court in the glare of international media.
“It might be different the second time around. It has been exhausting. I am continually approached by people, sometimes on campus, who want to tell their stories.
“It does make me feel stronger because these people feel they can tell their truths too. Every victim deserves justice to be served and more people need to keep coming forward. That is something that needs to keep happening.
“Young people need to testify and say: ‘This is what happened to me but I will not let it define my life, I will continue with my life’.
“These experiences stay with you for life. It is complicated and powerful. Perpetrators need to see how awfully this affects victims,” Zondi said.
At the media conference, Zondi said she did not realise the impact the case would have on her life. “As if I have not lost weight and sleep due to stress over this case.
“I had to rewrite exams because I could not concentrate‚ because of the stress I suffered.”
But‚ she was prepared to go through “secondary victimisation” all over again to see justice done.
“I don’t care how many times I have to tell the truth. I’ll do it all over again.
“I have confidence in the truth. I know what happened to me. I know what I went through and justice will prevail.
“I won’t lie that I feel strong all the time. I’m human. I feel the pressure. I get panic attacks‚ but it has to be done. It’s a daily struggle, but I won’t go to sleep knowing that I let someone who abused me walk freely because I didn’t want to stand up and do this all over again,” Zondi said.
Following claims that the National Prosecuting Authority had not yet discussed a way forward for Zondi following Makaula’s recusal, NPA spokesperson Tspeo Ndwalza said all relevant parties, including Zondi, would be engaged “when the time is right”.