Rape, religion and cults thrust into spotlight

Cheryl Zondi
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Rape, religion and cults have been thrust into the spotlight this week with moving testimony by alleged rape victim Cheryl Zondi in the much-reported-on Timothy Omotoso rape case in the Port Elizabeth High Court in the Eastern Cape.

Zondi is accusing Nigerian pastor Omotoso of sexually grooming her from the age of 14, in a trial that has dominated headlines and social media.

Omotoso and his co-accused and alleged accomplices, Lusanda Solani and Zukiswa Sitho, are facing 97 charges that include human trafficking, rape and sexual assault.

Zondi has received widespread support from South Africans for her bravery.

Minister of Women in the Presidency, Bathabile Dlamini and Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee in this department, Thandi Memela, have saluted her bravery.

In their statement, they say she is an inspiration to millions of young women who have broken the silence on sexual harassment.

They have expressed outrage at the style of cross-examination by the Defence Counsel, Peter Daubermann. They say this might discourage survivors of sexual violence from breaking the silence.

The committee and minister have assured victims of sexual abuse of their support.

Mahikeng Minister’s Fellowship in North West is throwing its weight behind Zondi. Spokesperson Lesiba Kgwele says the church must unite and speak in one voice against perpetrators of abuse directed at women and children including young boys.

Kgwele says, “We are saying that the case before the court presents us with the opportunity to find our moral campus and to intensify the fight against the scourge of gender-based violence. The church must admit that it has betrayed young girls and women with its silence. We’re now beginning to speak out boldly against what is committed against them and our boys. We are confident that the criminal justice system will ensure justice in the Omotoso case without fear or favour.”

Zondi, who is the first witness, has faced relentless and sometimes questionable cross-examination by Daubermann.

The trial has highlighted the reasons why many victims are afraid to come forward.

Statistics South Africa reports that the rape of South African women is among the highest in the world.

These victims claim that the process of cross-examination is not easy and better support systems are needed for victims.

“I wanted these perpetrators that did it to me not to do it to another girl or another woman, but seeing them everyday, I was skeptical … I wanted to write an affidavit stating I wanted to withdraw but the thing is inside of you there’s that thing calling out for justice. I wasn’t ashamed,” says one of the rape survivors.

Rape Crisis Centre board member, Kempie Van Rooyen says the healing process for rape victims is personal and a lonely journey that drives victims into a number of emotional breakdowns.

He details the hardships that victims experience, during the process of healing, which can further enhance victims’ feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame.

“There’s no shame in being a rape victim. Nobody should feel ashamed because they’ve been raped … Sometimes it’s difficult for the victim to bear it all in that kind of context, but then there’s also signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress which will mean that if a person is faced with something that reminds them of what happened they have strong emotional reactions.”

Meanwhile, The case against athletics coach and Deputy President of Athletics Free State, Steven Swart, has been postponed to the 16th of November in the Bloemfontein Regional Court.

Swart, a stepfather to Olympic gold medallist Wayde van Niekerk, is accused of raping a 21-year-old female athlete he coached.

The woman alleges that the incident occurred when Swarts was massaging her in June 2018. He is still out on R1000 bail.

In another case, Lobby group AfriForum says it’s concerned by the failure and possible manipulation of the justice system. This follows police’s failure to investigate an alleged rape of a three-year old by her grandfather.

The rape is said to have taken place two years ago.

The organisation’s private prosecutions unit now plans to take up the matter.

AfriForum says it views the sexual assault and abuse of children as a cancer.

The organisation broke its silence following the Dros rape, where a 21-year-old man allegedly raped a seven-year old girl.

AfriForum CEO, Kallie Kriel, says, “We all know of the horrific incident at Dros, where our stance is clear that we believe the law should act swiftly. People should be held accountable for behavior like that and should be given harsher sentences because we need to get out a strong message.”

Click below for an ‘On the Record’ debate looking at how to deal with abusive religious leaders:

Cheryl Zondi Related video click below:


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