It’s a week since international cricket commentator Peter Roebuck flung himself out of his sixth-floor hotel room in Newlands, and the jury is still out. It shouldn’t be.
To recap: Itai Gondo, a 26-year-old Zimbabwean IT student who works nights as a barman to fund his part-time university studies, walks into a Cape Town police station last Saturday morning to report a sexual assault.
Seven hours later, the case has been transferred to the sex crimes unit closest to the Newlands Southern Sun and police are quizzing the complainant. On a Saturday. In South Africa, that’s quicker than Dale Steyn.
They leave – with some damning evidence that is yet to be revealed – telling Gondo they are on their way to arrest Roebuck.
When the cricket journalist opens his hotel room door he greets them, says a reliable source, with words along the lines of: “Is this about Itai?”
Minutes later he jumps to his death rather than accompany the dumbstruck officers.
Malicious online gossip has it that Gondo is a rent boy. Homophobes who have never met him say he is gay. Alternatively, Gondo is on a mission for Robert Mugabe hellbent on revenge for Roebuck’s past criticism of his regime.
But Gondo is having none of it. The one thing keeping his bubbling trauma at bay is his anger around Roebuck’s suicide and the fact that people are blaming him for it.
One of those people is one of Roebuck’s “sons” in his Pietermaritzburg commune who broke the news of his benefactor’s suicide to Gondo last Sunday in a 6am SMS that read: “Are you happy now?”
The same “son” who had set up Gondo’s meeting with Roebuck was annoyed that the police had been called in. It’s revealing that no one has blamed Roebuck, the cops or his “son” for starting the ball rolling. But that’s the knee-jerk in sex crimes: blame the victim.
Gondo’s reply, however, is dignified – and to the point: “I told him I was sorry for his loss, but you must understand that what happened to me on Monday happened to me and no one can change that because I had to experience it.
“And as far as I am concerned he took his own life because he didn’t want to face the law. He didn’t want to face up to what he did. So it’s not my problem. He is the architect of his own demise.”
Gondo is also upset because, when he finally plucked up the courage to report an assault that is still being called alleged, the cricket scribe robbed him of his day in court. In sex crimes units they call that secondary abuse.
Tellingly, justice is not Gondo’s only motive: “The more I thought through it I realised I wanted my day in court so I could move on. I kept thinking if I keep quiet what if he does the same thing to another guy? Then I’m going to regret it knowing that I could have stopped this person in his tracks.”
For me, Gondo’s altruism points not only to the quality of the complainant but the quality of his evidence as well. He has been transparent with me. What’s more, he’s able to answer the really difficult questions that critics are posing.
Like how do we know that his Facebook chat with Roebuck is not made up?
Gondo’s immediate response is to briefly reactivate his account in front of me – he doesn’t want to deal with hate mail – and download the web page of Roebuck’s private inbox “grooming” chat that’s quite creepy no matter how many times I read it.
He even handles the insulting, “So why didn’t you fight back?” with dignity – and humility: “Because I was a coward.”
That brings tears to my eyes. “I was in shock,” he continues, “and told myself that this couldn’t be happening. I was so dumbstruck that I couldn’t do anything.”
This kind of authenticity crops up often in Gondo’s retelling of his story which amounts to a 4 000-word plus transcript. It’s far more detailed than his police statement and convinces me as much as it has other journalists who have read it.
I spent two hours with Gondo and I could spot nothing that suggested a fraud. He broke down several times during his detailed recollection, especially when it came to the assault itself. That kind of emotion is hard to fake.
So are the telltale signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was so concerned about Gondo’s state of mind, that I called a sex crimes contact to set up counselling before I called my news desk.
You also can’t make it up. Part of Gondo’s testimony contains some chilling lines. Like the one about the sick manipulation game Roebuck is alleged to have played in order to trick Gondo into stripping. Roebuck, he says, called it “peeling off the layers to get to the real me”.
Desperate for a better future that Roebuck dangled like a carrot, Gondo at first complied, thinking he was undergoing some sort of perverse test. By this stage the room was thick with talk of fatherly love which, in Roebuck’s house, says Gondo, involved physical closeness.
Adds Gondo: “I thought that maybe he was testing my loyalty as a son.”
Roebuck had by this stage researched Gondo’s emotional scarring around an absent and abusive father. It’s there in the private Facebook chat which has been authenticated by a person familiar with Roebuck’s page. And the cops found it real enough to go knocking.
But for me the most telling sign of Gondo’s authenticity is the way he bares his soul and confesses cowardice.
“Because I didn’t fight back or hit him, I felt like a coward. I still feel like a coward. I was thinking what are my friends going to think about me? That I’m a chicken and did nothing about it.”
The fallout around Gondo’s manhood has been immense and tragic. As we speak the girlfriend he proposed to recently is distancing herself. He’s heartbroken that a virtual stranger’s baggage could spell the loss of a love relationship.
All this is surely not part of a conman’s repertoire?
And nor is this: “I’ve only been in one fight in my life when I was 13 and the guy beat me senseless and I never even fought back.
“I was so afraid. I got that same sinking feeling, that fear of fighting … when Peter forced himself on me.”
All this and more will come out in the wash at the inquest into Roebuck’s suicide. - Pretoria News Weekend