DA demands protection for Cheryl Zondi and other Omotoso trial witnesses

2018-10-30 22:45
Cheryl Zondi, 22, testifies during the trial against controversial Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso and his co-accused Zukiswa Sitho and Lusanda Sulani at the Port Elizabeth High Court on 10 October 2018

Cheryl Zondi, 22, testifies during the trial against controversial Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso and his co-accused Zukiswa Sitho and Lusanda Sulani at the Port Elizabeth High Court on 10 October 2018

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WATCH: Omotoso rape trial resumes after lawyer asked judge to recuse himself

2018-10-25 14:24

The rape trial of Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso has resumed in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth.WATCH

The DA is demanding protection and counselling for Cheryl Zondi and other witnesses in the trial of rape accused preacher Timothy Omotoso.

At a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency on Tuesday, it emerged that the Department of Justice had not provided security for Zondi and the other witnesses in the Omotoso case. MPs also heard that the witnesses did not receive counselling from the Department of Social Development. 

DA MP Terri Stander said it was unacceptable that the "vulnerable" witnesses had no protection while R9.1m was spent on VIP protection for ministers each year.

"South Africans have rallied in support of Cheryl Zondi, but government has not," she told News24 after the meeting.

"The 40 witnesses in the Omotoso case have no protection from potential threat to life, or counselling services. I cannot believe that such vulnerable women have no protection while R9.1m is spent on VIP protection for ministers each year."

She said the Department of Social Development was mandated to provide social services, but to date had not made available any counselling to the witnesses.

Death threats to congregants

"We demand the DSD (Department of Social Development) offer counselling to all witnesses, and that a threat analysis is conducted and protection offered to any vulnerable witness," she said.

The committee was briefed by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) on the commercialisation of religion and the abuse and exploitation of people's belief systems.

Chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said congregants face death threats if they fail to submit to religious leaders' instructions. 

She said some religious leaders manipulate and indoctrinate their congregants, especially women.

"Once people control other people, you have a problem," Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.

She said many people were manipulated by leaders who claim they have spoken to a higher power. 

A bit of scepticism

"There is a challenge around 'God told me this'," she said.

"That is where the majority of exploitation starts.

"If you followed the Omotoso case, the implication is: 'If you tell, God will kill you'.

"That is at the core of everything."

She said Zondi's testimony helped put cracks in the image the preacher had built of himself among members of the public, and with around 40 young women coming forward, people were starting to realise that "maybe this is an ordinary man, she made all those allegations and she is still alive".

She said a bit of scepticism was necessary.

"We need to create doubt in people's minds, not about God, but about the individual," she said, suggesting that an awareness campaign might help in this regard.

Call for stricter legislation

She also suggested a peer review mechanism that will regulate the religious sector. The committee wasn't convinced by the idea of a peer review mechanism.

"The committee was of the view that religious leaders will not be able to regulate themselves. While a peer review mechanism has advantages, it will not work in this case, as the church works on a system of forgiveness. A much more stringent system must be devised," reads a statement from the committee.
 
In light of the religious sector's failure to regulate itself, the committee called on government to tighten legislation and to close churches, where necessary. 

Members of the committee said religious leaders had failed to take a stand against wrongdoing in churches, including sexual abuse. 
 
The committee welcomed the public participation process that the commission is set to undertake and said the commission needed to engage with schools to educate and create awareness on the matter. 

"The committee called on the CRL Rights Commission to enforce its mandate, which is to conduct legislative intervention, including to make, prepare recommendations and submit to relevant departments. However, any intervention must be done within the confines of the Constitution, bearing in mind that it enshrines freedom of religion for all South Africans," reads the statement from committee chairperson Thandi Memela.

Possibility of SARS unit focusing on religious sector

"Nonetheless, the growing problem of abuse within some churches must be dealt with. The committee recommends a religious act, a registration with a council within a regulatory framework and provision for a complaints procedure. 

"Furthermore, municipalities must enforce by-laws and prevent churches from operating in areas that are not demarcated for religious services. Implementing and enforcing by-laws can be done immediately to shut down churches." 

The committee also suggested that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) should ensure the tax compliance of churches.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the commission was engaging with SARS and looking into the possibility of a unit focusing on the religious sector.

Read more on:    da  |  crl rights commission  |  sexual abuse  |  religion

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