Editorial | Rape complainants deserve protection
For about two full weeks in October last year, Cheryl Zondi sat in the witness box at the Port Elizabeth High Court and recited harrowing details of the alleged rape and sexual abuse she said she suffered at the hands of controversial pastor Timothy Omotoso. Even under intense cross-examination, she stood firm and told what she maintained was her truth.
For some she became a figure of strength – the voice for other victims of alleged abuse who were too afraid to speak against perpetrators who hold powerful positions in society.
But she also had to endure harsh criticism, vile insults and even threats of violence from those who believe she was not being truthful.
After judge Mandela Makaula’s decision to recuse himself from the case last week, Zondi was faced with the tough decision of whether or not she would take the stand again.
While she initially said she needed time to think it over, on Tuesday she announced that she would be continuing with the trial.
“When [Makaula] made his announcement, I thought ‘oh no’. I didn’t want to go through that ordeal again.
“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 explained of her decision.
Whether or not Zondi’s testimony is truthful is not for us to pronounce; the merits of the case will be decided by the court.
But an important lesson to come out of the ordeal is the need for witnesses to be protected from having to constantly relive their trauma.
The justice system must ensure that complainants of rape and sexual abuse, whomever they may be, get the best possible care and that every effort be made to ensure they do not keep enduring what Zondi described as “secondary victimisation”.