Port Elizabeth - Cheryl Zondi, 22, on Wednesday laid bare the details of the horrific sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager allegedly at the hands of Nigerian Pastor Timothy Omotoso, who is on trial for rape and human trafficking in the Port Elizabeth High Court.
Zondi, who has wavered her privilege not to be identified as a victim of sexual violence, told the court in between sobs that a year after she joined the Jesus Dominion International (JDI) church, Omotoso began abusing her. To stop her from telling anyone, he allegedly threatened to have her family killed, she testified.
Omotoso sat next to his fellow accused -- henchwomen, Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho -- with television camera's capturing their discomfort as Zondi recalled the horrors she suffered.
An aspiring singer at the time, Zondi -- who was part of a youth group -- joined the church in 2009 at the age of 13, against the wishes of her mother.
With friends, she started going to a local JDI church regularly in Secunda in Mpumalanga and heard of a national meeting which would be hosted by Omotoso in Durban. Zondi made a plan to attend the church service in Durban and recalled how she was amazed by the music.
Upon returning to Secunda, Zondi was informed by a local pastor, that Omotoso liked the way she sang. Her communication with the televangelist started when Zondi was given the pastor’s number and was "coached" on how to interact with him.
“I would have to call him every single day and SMS him up to five times a day. He would want to know all my movements. He kept asking me the same questions, about my love life, [and] how far I wanted him to go with me," she said.
Zondi broke down in tears telling the court: “I was 14-years-old, I didn’t have a love life, I did not have a boyfriend, I did not have a sexual experience. These constant questions would confuse me."
Another national church event was taking place in Durban and Zondi said she wanted to attend. She told the court that a couple from the JDI local church sponsored her bus ticket and upon arriving in Durban, Omotoso arranged for a cab to take her to the church event.
After the service, Zondi said that she drove with Omotoso and so-called "elite" woman to a house in Umhlanga. She recalled being briefed on the rules of the house that was occupied by 20 to 30 girls.
"I was told that we have to be clean and well-groomed and shower up to four times a day," she said.
Zondi said the girls were not allowed to sleep for too long.
They were only given one meal a day and she described how Omotoso would throw sweets and food scraps at them while the woman would praise him at his feet and hug him "inappropriately".
Zondi said she was instructed to meet Omotoso in what she initially thought was his office but later discovered was his bedroom. When she entered the room, Omotoso was lying on the bed, under the sheets when he instructed her to sit next to him.
Omotoso started asking her the same questions about her love life.
"He could see I was confused. I had run out of answers and did not know what more to say but he kept probing. He saw I was confused and said I could go," she said.
Zondi, who was 14 at the time, said that Omotoso then got up from the bed, hugged her, pulled on her bra-strap and pushed her back onto the bed. She was fully clothed at the time.
"I was in such shock I lay there paralysed. He came on top of me, started fondling me and used his hands to feel me up. He was having the time of his life, laughing," she said.
At night, Zondi said she was again summoned to Omotoso's bedroom where she was instructed to get into bed with him.
"I got into the bed and he was busy fondling himself. He told me I must be free and do whatever I want to do. I was 14, I did not understand what he was telling me," she said.
She told the court that Omotoso told her to remove her night dress.
"I was now naked with who I thought was a man of God," she said.
"I was still a virgin at the time, so he took caution not to go all the way."
Omotoso then fell asleep snoring with half his body and face on top of her.
Zondi said when he got up, he prayed and asked God to forgive them. She was told what happened between them was a covenant.
"He told me that I better not say anything because a man of God can't go to jail," she said.
Zondi said the sexual abuse continued for two-and-a-half years and progressed with oral sex as she entered high school. She said she became a spotlight figure in the church and would travel to Durban over weekends and school holidays at Omotoso's expense.
At the time she was part of his "Grace Galaxy" choir and the musical training would be a cover-up for her travels to the house.
Zondi said she and other girls travelled extensively with Omotoso across South Africa, and as far as Israel and Nigeria.
She said the sexual abuse continued at hotels and guest-houses.
She described him as "a liar, an abuser, a predator and a narcissist," although church congregants viewed him as "God's best friend or perhaps half God".
Zondi said that he instilled fear among his followers. She said that if anyone chose to leave JDI, they would die or disappear mysteriously.
Omotoso's wife, Taiwo, was seen laughing during Zondi's testimony.
Zondi said she did not leave the church because she feared for her and her mother's lives.
In 2012, Zondi said her family had decided to make a move to Gauteng, a move that angered the pastor.
In 2013, she developed a high school crush and skipped a church event for a school social where she and a boy had kissed, she testified. Zondi said the pastor found out and she was bombarded with phone calls. Her mother informed a church woman on the line that Zondi would no longer be a member of JDI.
By 2014, Zondi completed her matric and was diagnosed with depression and attempted to take her own life. Zondi said at the age of 19, in 2015, she decided to return as she needed closure. Zondi said she also missed singing in the church and was encouraged by old friends to come back with the promise of change.
Sulani organised a plane ticket from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and Omotoso paid for it. She said that at a guesthouse in Port Elizabeth Zondi said Sulani and Sitho accompanied her to see Omotoso. Upon seeing him she burst into tears.
"I expected to hear the words I'm sorry but instead he said 'I forgive you'. Here I was at 19, back in the same situation and I knew at that moment nothing had changed." Zondi said the same sexual abuse resurfaced but this time Omotoso threatened that if she left again, she would drop dead.
Zondi found herself back at the house in Durban in Umhlanga for a period of four months, but this time she was not allowed to leave the house. Zondi said over time she planned an escape and fled.
The trial was postponed to Monday for cross-examination.
African News Agency (ANA)