Bishop Zondo rape case: Trial postponed again after defence advocate fired

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Bishop Stephen Zondo.
Bishop Stephen Zondo.
Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele
  • Bishop Stephen Zondo, who has been charged with several counts of rape, has appeared in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
  • His trial was expected to start but was postponed to give his new lawyer time to consult and take instructions.
  • The case is back in court on 14 September.

The rape trial of Bishop Stephen Zondo has been postponed yet again - this time because he fired his advocate - leading to speculation from the State that it could be a delaying tactic.

Zondo, who has been charged with several counts of rape, appeared in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Monday, where his trial was supposed to begin. 

The matter was previously postponed for a week to give his defence team time to prepare for the trial.

Although his lawyers asked for a six-month postponement, Judge Peet Johnson said at the time that he would not grant a lengthy postponement. However, he said Zondo could not be punished if his legal team did not prepare.

On Monday, the court heard that Zondo had terminated the mandate of his advocate, Richard Mkhabela. 

READ | Court gives Bishop Zondo a week to prepare for rape trial

Mkhabela said he was told last Wednesday that his mandate had been withdrawn. He added that he had not been informed about the reason for the withdrawal.

Zondo's new advocate, Piet Pistorius, SC, told the court that he was briefed to represent Zondo last week. 

He added that Mkhabela's mandate had been terminated due to a loss of confidence. 

Pistorius asked for a postponement because he had not been able to meet with Zondo to take instructions and consult, and had not yet seen the docket.

He said he would be available in November for the trial.

State advocate Jennifer Cronje said that although Zondo has a constitutional right to be represented by a legal representative of his choice, the appointment of new counsel appeared to have been taken to delay proceedings. 

READ | Bishop Steven Zondo attempts to have rape trial postponed

She added that the postponements prejudiced witnesses who are subjected to secondary trauma every time they have to appear in court. 

Cronje submitted that the State would not oppose the postponement application, but warned that the State could apply to have the trial proceed and for the withdrawal of Zondo's warning so that he is taken into custody until the conclusion of the trial. If it became clear that Zondo wanted to delay the matter, the State would consider these options.

But Pistorius hit back at the State, denying that it was a delaying tactic and adding that changes to legal representation often happened in criminal cases.

The matter was postponed to 14 September for Pistorius to take instructions. Thereafter, a new trial date will be determined. 

Indictment 

The controversial Rivers of Living Waters Ministries Bishop faces a string of charges of rape, indecent assault and defeating the ends of justice. 

It's alleged that the incidents he is accused of started in the 1980s and continued up until 2018.

READ HERE | 'I am ready for trial' - Bishop Zondo after rape case transferred to high court

According to the indictment, the first count of rape dates back to 1980, when Zondo allegedly raped a minor girl in Sebokeng.

It was also alleged that he forced the minor to play with his penis on numerous occasions during the same year. 

In 2008, he allegedly raped an adult woman in a hotel in Johannesburg. In 2013 and 2015, he allegedly raped two more women in Evaton. It is alleged that one of the women was raped on two different occasions. 

In December 2015, he allegedly raped another woman in or near to his church in Johannesburg. 

He is accused of a sixth rape in 2016 and of committing a seventh two years later.


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