A surprise raid was made this week by national correctional services officials on televangelist Timothy Omotoso’s cell in Port Elizabeth’s St Albans Prison, where prison officials found an “excessive” number of suits.
The raid was conducted on his single cell after Minister for Women in the Presidency Bathabile Dlamini decried the preferential treatment the disgraced pastor – on trial for rape and human trafficking – was receiving in prison.
The flamboyant Omotoso has been immaculately dressed throughout his trial, which began three weeks ago.
Aside from a vast wardrobe, officials also found him to have his own television and radio, but correctional services says the law does allow him to have these.
Other inmates inside the awaiting trial section of the prison say Omotoso’s cell has always contained a lot of suits and looks more like a fashion boutique.
“He has many suits hung in his cell; he wears a different one every day,” said one.
On the steps of the high court in Port Elizabeth on Monday, Dlamini told protestors: “We will also fight the special treatment that Omotoso is getting in jail.
“He lives in a single cell and does what he wants to do while his victims are sitting out here, not safe.
“This is a turning point for everyone to ask themselves what they have done to protect women‚ especially the justice system.”
City Press has also learnt that last year Omotoso was in possession of forbidden items in his cell.
“Key to the list of items was a guitar and cellphone, which he was not allowed to have,” said another inmate, adding that Omotoso also tried unsuccessfully to bring in his own microwave oven.
“A prison warden who is allegedly a member of his Jesus Dominion International Church helped him bring the items in.”
The female prison warden involved in approving the forbidden items was dismissed from her post last year, which the department confirmed.
Further allegations about Omotoso’s preferential prison treatment included that he has specially scheduled private exercising sessions.
He also allegedly doesn’t mix with other prisoners and receives a “special wall of protection” around him as he moves around the prison’s medium-A section where he is housed.
Another inmate in the awaiting trial section claimed that an incident in which inmates attacked prison wardens with sharp objects, which resulted in several inmates and guards being injured last year, was sparked by widespread dissatisfaction at the special treatment Omotoso was receiving.
Head of communications for correctional services Singabakho Nxumalo said he could not confirm the allegations.
“I will investigate the allegations and give an informed comment on them,” said Nxumalo.
“I can, however, confirm that televisions and radios are acceptable items for inmates to have.”
Omotoso was arrested in a dramatic fashion 18 months ago after he was found hiding from heavily armed police in a toilet cubicle at Port Elizabeth International Airport. With him was a young woman who was later reported to be his “personal assistant”.
On the evening of his arrest, advocate Terry Price SC represented Omotoso for his midnight bail application. He later handed his client to his partners.
But after five failed bail applications, two added accused and five lawyers, Price was back on the case this week to attempt a new application, brought by Omotoso’s attorney Peter Daubermann, for Judge Mandela Makaula to recuse himself from the case.
“Accused one and two feel that they cannot trust you with a fair judgment in their case because you were too friendly with the witness [Cheryl Zondi],” said Daubermann in his application.
Judge Makaula dismissed the application, but the defence has applied for leave to appeal his decision.
In the reception hall at St Albans’ main gate there is a list of about eight people who are allowed to visit Omotoso.
Top of that list is Terry Price, but his name was crossed out after Omotoso dismissed him after his first failed bail application.
The return of Price’s name to the list now rests on the success or failure of Omotoso’s appeal against Makaula.
With Dlamini outside the court on Monday morning was a contingent of high-profile politicians including Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and Deputy Water and Sanitation Minister Pam Tshwete, who came to support the alleged victims.
When the case resumes on Tuesday, Makaula will rule on the defence’s application to appeal his refusal to recuse himself.
On Thursday, Price told Makaula that if he did not grant the defence leave to appeal the trial will have to be halted until such time as they can petition the Supreme Court of Appeal directly.