145 A young rape victim's guardian holds her picture as the controversy around the little girl's situation continues. 230712. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

“It wasn’t me.” That was the blank denial Simon Rikhotso, 27, offered on Thursday at the Johannesburg High Court, where he faces three counts of raping seven-year-old Tshego* and one count of kidnapping.

He didn’t ask for the girl while she was at her grandmother’s house in Tembisa on Christmas Eve last year. He didn’t scoop her by both hands and run away with her to an open field. He didn’t rape or sexually assault her at the field, nor did he take her to his backroom and rape her vaginally and anally. So who exactly committed these crimes on Tshego?

On Thursday, the court heard from Rikhotso that he had let out his room to his friend, whom he identified only as Phillip. According to Rikhotso, Phillip had approached him at about 3pm on December 24 asking him for the keys to his back room.

Rikhotso gave him the keys and asked no further questions about why he needed to use his room despite also living in the same area, as he was leaving to visit another friend. When he returned at midnight, Phillip was sleeping on his bed with a little girl.

“Can you give us a description of Phillip?” asked State prosecutor Carla Britz. “He is coffee colour,” Rikhotso replied. “Would you say he is darker or lighter than you?” Britz continued, “We are the same colour,” he answered.

When asked how tall Phillip was in comparison to him, Rikhotso told the court they were the same height, and were the same body size.

They also had the same haircut.

“So you’re telling me your friend Phillip could be your identical twin,” Britz stated. “No, we are not identical,” he replied.

Rikhotso said he had heard Tshego’s testimony and how she had been adamant her alleged attacker was him, but he asserted on Thursday that it wasn’t.

“So on your arrival at around midnight, where was Phillip?” Britz asked.

“On my bed,” he said. “And where was the child?” the prosecutor continued. “They were both in my bed… I took a blanket and also slept in the same bed,” Rikhotso said. He said he woke up in the morning while both the child and Phillip were still asleep. He left the room to buy cigarettes and did not go back.

Bits of Rikhotso’s version of events were corroborated by his 15-year-old niece’s testimony that she had seen him leave his room, and minutes after his exit, she saw another man leave the room. He said he thought they would leave together because they had come to the room together.

Tshego was rescued from the room by Rikhotso’s niece, who heard her screams, and was then taken by his father Jackson back to her grandmother’s house.

The State and Rikhotso’s defence counsel, Jesse Penton, gave their closing arguments yesterday, with the State arguing they had proved their case of rape beyond reasonable doubt, and that Tshego’s adamant testimony that it was Rikhotso who raped her proved the attacker’s identity. Penton called for his client’s acquittal on the charges as he had explained it was his friend who had brought the girl.

Members from the ANC Women’s League from Ivory Park and People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) came to court to support Tshego’s family. Senzani Madi from Powa said: “We are asking the community to stand up to rape because when they are quiet it’s as though they are happy about it. The men should be supporting the girl’s father, but no one has come up. We need people to stand up against this.”

Judgment was to be handed down on Friday morning.

* Not her real name

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The Star