JOHANNESBURG, 4 December – Sexual assault and rape survivor, Cheryl Zondi, said on Tuesday that she has asked the Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to investigate the South African Police Service (SAPS) witness protection programme saying her personal experience left her feeling “the system does not work for victims”.
“I have personally laid a complaint with the Public Protector of this country asking that the witness protection programme be thoroughly investigated and changed because, in my own experience, I have realised that the system does not work for victims, especially young victims,” Zondi said.
“When a young person helps clean up a country by getting rapists off the streets, it is then the responsibility of the state to protect that person and protect that person’s rights.
“It is neither just, nor is it constitutional to ask a youth to drop out of school … go somewhere far away and forget their identity all to make cleaning up the country more convenient for the state.
“Dropping off the face of the earth and cutting off all communication with family members sounds to me like a punishment that a criminal informant maybe would have no other option but to accept in order to avoid imprisonment. These are some of the changes that we are trying to pioneer.”
Zondi, the first witness in the trial of Nigerian televangelist Timothy Omotoso, made her comments during the announcement of the establishment of her foundation to support women and children survivors of sexually, mentally, emotionally and spiritually abuse perpetrated in “sacred spaces”.
Her new foundation also intends to raise awareness for psychological support for survivors in such cases.
The brave 22-year-old University of Johannesburg student from Mpumalanga was put into a witness protection programme and stayed in a safe house at a secret location until she could testify against Omotoso in the Port Elizabeth High Court earlier this year.
She endured tough cross-examination from defence lawyer Peter Daubermann and was slammed by Omotoso’s staunch supporters outside court.
Zondi, who waivered her right to anonymity, was cast into the spotlight after detailing years of sexual abuse and rape allegedly at the of her pastor, Omotoso, at his mansion in uMhlanga Rocks in Durban, where he allegedly trafficked young women for his sexual pleasure.
Mkhwebane said Zondi’s matter must be investigated urgently, adding that there was information that people have offered money to have Zondi and other witnesses in the Omotoso rape trial killed.
“I have approached the minister of justice and the minister of police and we were supposed to meet this week so that we can have an urgent intervention because the matter is so serious and so scary in that apparently there is money promised to whoever can take the life of Cheryl and the other girls,” Mkhwebane said.
“I think it’s very urgent, so we are trying our level best to meet at the ministerial level so they can then intervene. As Cheryl has mentioned, the system the way it is structured is not protecting the victim.
“For now we are still trying to invite them to the meeting, but if it comes to a point of subpoenaing the ministers to come because this is a crisis for us, I think we will have to do that.”
Omotoso, the leader of Jesus Dominion International Church, faces 63 main charges and 34 alternative counts in the Port Elizabeth High Court, including human trafficking, rape, sexual assault, and racketeering.
The 58-year-old televangelist allegedly trafficked more than 30 girls and women who were from various branches of his church to a house in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, where he allegedly sexually exploited them.
Zondi alleges that Omotoso sexually abused her, forced her to perform sexual acts on him and raped her. She says the attacks began when she was only 14 and continued until she was 19.
-African News Agency (ANA)