Cheryl Zondi launches foundation to help victims abused in 'sacred places'

Cheryl Zondi, the first witness to take the stand in the trial of Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso, has launched a foundation – the Cheryl Zondi Foundation – to support women and children who have been abused.

The foundation, whose tag line is "turning pain into purpose", was established to help survivors of mental, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse in sacred places such as churches.

Zondi launched the foundation during a media briefing in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

She said it was astounding to see the number of rape cases laid by other victims since she spoke out in court. She believes this should serve as a wake-up call.

"I have decided with the institutional support of the CRL Rights Commission to start the Cheryl Zondi Foundation and I am pleased to announce that it's an officially registered NPO," said Zondi.

The launch was attended by, among others, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, commissioners from the CRL Rights Commission, friends and family of Zondi and #TotalShutDown representatives.   

Zondi said lending her name to the foundation never crossed her mind at first but after reflecting on her own pain and that of other victims, it made sense for her to attach her identity to it.

'Great lack' of psychological and legal support for victims 

She said through the foundation she wanted to help women and young people who have gone through the same experience that she did while in "sacred places".

"Because trust me, there are countless, boundless, faceless and nameless victims out there whose cases will not get similar support or media coverage," said Zondi.

She said she and other survivors who are yet to take the stand as witnesses in the Omotoso trial had first-hand experience of the "great lack" of psychological and legal support for victims who have been abused in sacred spaces in both religious and traditional spaces.

READ: Moral responsibility for Omotoso lies with the churches

"When the perpetrator you speak out against is a spiritual leader and is someone who uses people's pre-existing beliefs to manipulate and control them, you put yourself in a very difficult and vulnerable position," she said.

She said people who were controlled and manipulated by church leaders were devoted to their leaders and would take on anyone who publicly speaks out against their religious representatives.

"When you speak out, you are immediately exposed to a whole other dimension of danger, danger from nameless people, faceless people. People who are willing to do anything to support their leader without receiving anything in return," she said.

Zondi said the foundation was also started to encourage victims to break their silence and speak about their experiences. She said the foundation would also support them through the legal processes that come with speaking out.

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