‘They want to kill us’
State witnesses in rape trial tell of graphic threats received by mystery SMS warning of dire consequences for testifying against flamboyant pastor
They want to kill us because we are telling people what really happened to us.
Those chilling words were written by one of the young women expected to testify against charismatic preacher Timothy Omotoso at his rape trial in the Port Elizabeth High Court.
As interest in the 60-yearold Nigerian pastor’s trial reaches fever pitch, two women – alleged rape victims whose names appear on the witness list – said they had received death threats.
One of the young women, who is not being named due to the nature of the alleged crime, posted a disturbingly graphic message on Facebook that had been sent to one of the state witnesses.
The message read: “You will know how it feels to be raped b***h. Leave Timothy alone liar. We know you stay with your sister and kids.”
The rest of the message is too graphic to repeat.
The woman said: “Sadly, these are the kinds of threats we have to deal with.
“This is not the first time we see such messages that are threatening us.
“They want to kill us because we are telling people what really happened to us.”
When asked by friends on Facebook if she had reported the threats to police, she said she had.
She said the phone number from which one of the threats was sent had not worked when it was tried.
Of another message, she said: “The message I got, the number there ayingeni [was not going through] but we all reported it and most of us got the message saying we will die if we testify.”
The second young woman also posted the threat, saying only: “Yoh ay!” and posting an angry-face emoji.
A source close to the police investigation confirmed that six witnesses had been threatened.
The source said: “We got the information [about a threat] about a week before [the case started] as and when they were supposed to start [the trial] on the Monday.
“These girls, six, six witnesses, they received the SMS.
“How they got the names and [numbers] of those girls we don’t know. That is the subject of an investigation.”
The source said the message the six witnesses received had been written in Sotho.
As a result of the threats, security around the witnesses has been jacked up.
When contacted on Friday afternoon, one of the witnesses agreed to an 8pm interview, but when contacted to confirm the interview, she said: “Sorry, I’m not ready to speak to journalists for now.
“I’m going through a lot and I can’t deal with newspapers for now.”
Eastern Cape Hawks spokesperson Anelisa Feni said: “We are investigating a case of alleged intimidation against witnesses.”
Five church leaders of Omotoso’s Jesus Dominion International (JDI) church, stationed at various branches around the country, refused to talk about the threats.
JDI pastor Osuagwu Chuks, Omotoso’s son-in-law, however, reacted angrily on Friday.
He said: “Why are you asking me about threats? I am not the police.
“If people have threats they must go to the police. The police can trace the calls.
“We have received threats . . . to close our church down.
“Don’t you [South Africans] believe in the constitution?
“Your country doesn’t obey the law, there are people beating lawyers.”
Chuks was referring to antirape activists who heckled Omotoso’s lawyer, Peter Daubermann, on Wednesday, also throwing water at him.
Meanwhile, a group supported by various political parties in the Bay has threatened to have the church shut down as outrage over the rape allegations continues to build.
At a media briefing at City Hall on Friday afternoon, Nomafo Sinefile of the ANC Women’s League’s Young Woman’s Desk said the grouping, calling itself Nelson Mandela Bay Citizens and Unity, was gravely concerned about Omotoso’s church. “We strongly believe this church is not serving its purpose,” Sinefile said.
“Our people cannot be found being manipulated and deceived in the name of God.
“We stand united against gender-based violence.
“We stand firmly united against rapists, human traffickers and the manipulation of our girl children and sisters. “We say enough is enough. “This church must be shut down,” Sinefile said.
Flanked by members of the ANC Youth and Women’s leagues, trade union Saftu, and the EFF, among others, Sinefile said the group would stage a protest outside the local branch of the JDI church in Govan Mbeki Avenue on Sunday, and called on residents to join it.
Cultural, Religious & Linguistic Rights Commission chair Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said although she understood the frustration of civil society, there was a fine line to consider when it came to infringing on people’s rights with regard to freedom of religion.
“Civil society is now being forced to do something [by shutting down Omotoso’s church] . . . there should be enough regulations in place to prevent [this] type of [churches operating].
“There is nothing in the country that regulates churches and we need a system in place.
“This is a sign of desperation . . . the frustration is justifiable. I cannot say who is right and who is wrong here.”
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said it was important to remember that it might be that not all the members of the JDI church were supporters of Omotoso.
She said everyone had the right to freedom of religion but safeguards needed to be put in place to ensure people could not be controlled by others through the use of religion.
She said society should also be reminded to separate ownership from churches because it created a psychological problem where people associated a specific church with whoever was the main leader of that church.
Omotoso, along with co-accused Lusanda Sulani, 36, and Zukiswa Sitho, 26, face a total of 97 charges between them that include racketeering, sexual assault, human trafficking and rape allegedly committed across SA and abroad, including in Nigeria and Israel.
They opted not to plead at the start of the trial, saying that they had not been furnished with sufficient detail on the charges.