Cheryl Zondi testified that Nigerian pastor and televangelist, Timothy Omotoso, sexually abused her for over two years. Since being arrested last year, he has been accused of sexual assault, human trafficking, and the rape of young women in his congregation, and now Timothy Omotoso will be behind bars for Christmas. While this may be a satisfying thought, it is also concerning that the case has been delayed.
Why has the case been postponed?
Omotoso and his alleged accomplices, Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho (accused of recruiting girls for sexual exploitation) appeared in the Port Elizabeth High Court on Monday for a sex trafficking case against them. This case is now postponed until February because of two petitions:
Omotoso’s legal team applied for Judge Mandela Makaula to recuse himself, claiming that the judge is biased. They have also called for the charges against Omotoso (and other two accused) to be quashed. According to Tshepo Ndwalaza (National Prosecuting Authority), this is a delaying tactic to prolong the case: ‘We don’t see how this will service their interests by delaying the trial because it’s been delayed a lot.’
These Supreme Court of Appeal has since dismissed both petitions. Now Omotoso and his legal team are approaching the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, to overrule the decision. They remain determined for the judge the recuse himself.
Omotoso’s legal team has previously shamed and mistreated Cheryl Zondi in Court
In her cross-examination, Cheryl Zondi had to endure the defense trying to discredit her and frame her as a liar, bringing to light the reality of why many victims of sexual violence do not report their abusers. Omotoso’s lawyer, Peter Daubermann, asked Cheryl Zondi to recall the inches of Omotoso’s genitalia. She was also asked why she did not scream.
Public outrage followed the inhumane line of questioning Zondi was subjected to. The defense also called her a ‘good actress’ as she recounted her trauma. Social media stood with Cheryl Zondi under the hashtag #IBelieveHer.
Here are some of the ways the Defence was Inhumane towards Cheryl Zondi:
Gaslighting: a tactic used to make victims doubt their memory
‘I put it to you, Ma’am that you are fabricating your evidence,’ said the defense lawyer, ‘I put it to you ma’am that you are lying about what happened to you.’
When the defense lawyer questioned her about not divulging what happened to her full, to the police, this was Cheryl Zondi’s remarkable answer:
‘Traumatic experiences, sir, have that kind of effect on a person’s mind. I’m not trying to be emotional here. This is what happened to me. Ok? He did that to me. And I was not trying to remember the finer details in the beginning. Excuse me for that.’
Patronising, insulting and shaming
The lawyer’s response to her above explanation of traumatic experiences was this: ‘Ma’am, don’t ramble on please.’
Similarly, he said: ‘That’s not a very clever answer ma’am’, when Zondi responded that she found his statements about her lying absurd.
Re-traumatizing a victim of sexual violence
The vilest question asked by the defense lawyer was when he asked Cheryl Zondi this question of her rapist:
‘How many centimeters? Do you know?’
At this point, the judge intervened. You can see the line of questioning in the video below:
While Cheryl Zondi’s bravery was celebrated, particularly for what her testimony will mean for others going forward, there is a lot wrong here. We should not expect strength from survivors. The standard should not be for victims of abuse to go through further emotional abuse at the hands of the legal system. No one should be forced to relive the finer details of the trauma while having being shamed and doubted for it.
The trial will continue 4 February 2019.
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