Judge Mandela Makaula’s decision to recuse himself as presiding officer of the rape trial against Nigerian Pastor Tim Omotoso means that the trial will have to start from the beginning again.
Addressing the media about this, one of Omotoso’s alleged victims, Cheryl Zondi said while the NPA had not contacted her officially about the recusal, giving up was not one of her options.
“The bottom line is that I’m probably going to have to start testifying all over again, from scratch, as if nothing happened last year,” she said.
Omotoso faces 63 main charges and 34 alternative counts which include human trafficking, rape, sexual assault, racketeering, and conspiracy in aiding another person to commit sexual assault. In the initial trial he pleaded not guilty.
Omotoso’s lawyer, Peter Daubermann, applied for the judge’s recusal claiming that the judge was biased towards Zondi.
Allegations also emerged that Judge Makaula allegedly had an interest in a guest house where witnesses were accommodated, but Zondi said she had no knowledge of this. “The only place I saw the judge was in the courtroom. “I stayed in a guest house arranged by the state. I did not know who it belonged to or anything of that sort,” News24 quoted her as saying.
Zondi, whose testimony was broadcast live, said: “There are people out there, children, young men and women who have been through what I have been through and worse, and they are watching and waiting to see if I’m going to give up and I want them to know that I won’t.”
She admitted that it was tough on the witness stand the last time and said that this time she expects it to be much worse. “It was extremely difficult and agonising for me,” she said.
Referring to the manner in which she was cross-examined by Daubermann, and the harrowing experience throughout her testimony, Zondi said: “This is not justice but if I have to go through secondary victimisation, then so be it.”
Zondi, who was supported by Thoko Xaluva-Mkhwanazi, chair of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Linguistic and Religious Communities (CRL) during the briefing, said she knew from the day she decided to speak out that her journey would not be an easy one.
“I didn’t have to think long and hard about it though because I had the support of my family and that is all I needed,” Zondi said.
“After years and years of work, I had to come to a point where feeling shame and hiding as if I had done something wrong made no sense to me at all. I was the one who was violated and so I wanted to reveal my real name and show my face,” said Zondi.
Zondi admitted that she underestimated the impact her speaking out would have on her life.
“I was oblivious to the fact that the people of our country hadn’t seen a rape case in South Africa unfolding in real time before with the actual accuser exposing herself on the stand… I anticipated some hate speech here and there, some naysayers and some support, basically nothing out of the ordinary… I didn’t expect the flood of support I got,” she said.
“The plan was that I’d go to Port Elizabeth, say my name and move on with my life as I knew it. Instead, I got to Port Elizabeth as planned but was re-traumatised. I got a badgering defence lawyer asking me about centimetres. (Telling) me that I wanted to get raped, making me feel like I was the one on trial,” Zondi said.
She also decried the state of the country’s witness protection programme which she said was dysfunctional.
“I had been back home for just a few days, only just a few days when I was told that there was a hit out on my head for half a million rand because I dared to speak my truth. I had to leave home and be away from my family who were keeping me sane to somewhere safer to avoid imminent death,” she said.
“I had the witness protection programme but after waiting on them to contact me for weeks, telling me to drop out of school, change my name and move to the middle of nowhere, reinforcing this lousy ‘victim must hide mentality’,” Zondi said.
“Contrary to what was being said, I was never under witness protection because its a system that just doesn’t work, especially for young witnesses,” she said.
She said she was punished for breaking her silence and that she was still enduring such punishment as she now has to deal with what it means to endure victimisation twice.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva agreed with Zondi, saying the country’s witness protection programme was dysfunctional. “I decided to take her into my custody. She was with me all along because we thought she’d feel safe,” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva urged South Africans to be proud of Zondi for her bravery to stand up and speak about her story. “She’s standing up for all of those hopeless and nameless victim and we hope they also get the same support from the public as she has,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.
When Daily Maverick asked Zondi if she felt let down by the country’s justice system, she responded: “The sad and harsh reality here is that none of the things I mentioned are new. This is what happens in South African courts day in and day and day out – this matter is just bringing all of that to the fore in broad daylight, and for everyone to see.”
On the work of her foundation Zondi said she was working with a number of young people who made her experience look like a walk in the park. She said she had heard far more depressing stories from some of the people who have come to her foundation for help.
Asked if she was mentally and emotionally prepared to re-deliver her testimony, Zondi said: “I’m ready. I’m confident, I know my story.”
“I am not going to give up, I will keep going because this is not just about me or about this case – it’s much bigger than all of us and it’s about justice”. DM