I will not give up, my truth needs to be told –Cheryl Zondi

Star witness in Omotoso trial ready to testify all over again

Cheryl Zondi briefs the Media on the latest development on the court case against her alleged rapist
Cheryl Zondi briefs the Media on the latest development on the court case against her alleged rapist
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/The Sunday Times

Global support from people far and wide helped Cheryl Zondi – the star state witness in the rape and human trafficking trial of controversial pastor Timothy Omotoso – pluck up the courage to take to the stand again after the presiding judge recused himself from the case.

Zondi announced at a media conference on Tuesday that she would be continuing with the trial.

“I have a responsibility to the nation that has supported me from the beginning,” the 23-year-old said.

“I have the responsibility to live up to the confidence this nation has in me.

“There are people who are waiting for me to give up, but I will not give up.”

Speaking to The Herald later, Zondi said it was all the support she had received since first taking the stand in October that had made it easier for her to make the decision.

“It has been ridiculous the amount of support I have received,” she said.

“There is some weight on my shoulders and it is a bit difficult living up to what people believe in me.”

Asked how she felt about Port Elizabeth High Court judge Mandela Makaula’s decision to recuse himself, Zondi said it was something she had had in the back of her mind after Omotoso’s attorney, Peter Daubermann, brought an application for his recusal.

“When [Makaula] made his announcement, I thought ‘oh no’. I didn’t want to go through that ordeal again,” she said.

She was, to some extent, angry about Makaula’s decision, but had realised his “objective point”.

Makaula officially recused himself on Friday because state witnesses in the case stayed at a guesthouse owned by his wife.

He said his decision was not due to the defence application but to prevent potential perceived bias in the future.

Since first testifying against Omotoso and his two co-accused, Zukiswa Sitho, 28, and Lusanda Sulani, 36, Zondi said she had been strengthened by growing support.

“At the end of the day, it needs to be done.

“It is a very intimidating process [and] it has been exhausting, but I am confident in my truth, which needs to be told,” she said.

In an unprecedented move, Zondi decided to testify in an open court with the trial broadcast live on television.

“The funny thing is that I didn’t know it had not been done before,” she said.

“It wasn’t that big a deal for me.

“It might be different the second time around.

“It has been exhausting. I am continually approached by people, sometimes on campus, who want to tell their stories.

“It does make me feel stronger because these people feel they can tell their truths too.

“Every victim deserves justice to be served and more people need to keep coming forward. That is something that needs to keep happening.

“Young people need to testify and say ‘this is what happened to me but I will not let it define my life, I will continue with my life’.

“These experiences stay with you for life, it is complicated and powerful.

“Perpetrators need to see how awfully this affects victims,” she said.

Zondi said at the media conference that she did not realise the impact the case would have on her life.

“As if I have not lost weight and sleep due to stress over this case, I had to rewrite exams because I could not concentrate‚ due to the stress I suffered.”

But‚ she said‚ she was prepared to go through “secondary victimisation” all over again to see justice done.

“I don’t care how many times I have to tell the truth. I’ll do it all over again.

“I have confidence in the truth. I know what happened to me.

“I know what I went through; justice will prevail.

“I won’t lie that I feel strong all the time. I’m human.

“I feel the pressure. I get panic attacks‚ but it has to be done.

“It’s a daily struggle but I won’t go to sleep knowing that I let someone who abused me walk freely because I didn’t want to stand up and do this all over again.”

Cheryl Zondi Foundation deputy chair Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said later: “We will continue to give [Zondi] emotional support and psychological support [and] work at strengthening her family support.”

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the University of Johannesburg, where Zondi is studying marketing, was doing what it needed to in terms of her safety.

“A lot of people thought [Zondi] would walk away, so she is likely to receive threats.”

Following her initial testimony, news reached Zondi of an alleged R500‚000 hit on her head for speaking out and she was given refuge at Mkhwanazi-Xaluva’s home.

“It is an appalling situation, the system needs to change,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.

According to MkhwanaziXaluva, the foundation would also continue to support other witnesses in the Omotoso case as well as any other alleged victims of gender-based violence.

“It is not only about [Zondi], there is a bigger struggle against gender-based violence.”

Following claims that the National Prosecuting Authority had not yet discussed a way forward for Zondi following Makaula’s recusal, NPA spokesperson Tsepo Ndwalaza said all relevant parties, including Zondi, would be engaged with “when the time is right”.

He said a judge had not been appointed yet.

Omotoso and his co-accused face a total of 97 charges ranging from rape to human trafficking and racketeering.

They did not enter pleas at the beginning of the trial, leading Makaula to enter pleas of not guilty on their behalf.