Timothy Omotoso, Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho at the Port Elizabeth High Court File photo: Raahil Sain / ANA

Port Elizabeth - Port Elizabeth High Court Judge Mandela Makaula on Friday recused himself from the controversial human trafficking trial involving Nigerian Pastor Timothy Omotoso.

Makaula's recusal follows reports his wife operated a guesthouse where State witnesses in the trial had been accommodated.

“I have no financial interests and play no role in its affairs,” he told the court.

Citing reasons for his recusal, Makaula said while he was not involved in any company or legal entity either as director or shareholder, the apprehension of bias existed.

“I’m not privy to information held by the State concerning accommodation of State witnesses. Despite the fact, there’s no application for me to recuse myself, I’m of the view that it’s the appropriate thing to do.” 

Eastern Cape Judge President Selby Mbenenge later presided over the matter, addressing the court on various issues, including the trial stating afresh and future media involvement. 

Defence attorney Peter Daubermann indicated he would in future oppose the media from broadcasting proceedings live. 

Mbenenge said that any applications in that regard would have to be brought before June 28.

The matter now starting afresh, means that a new judge would be appointed to the case and evidence previously led will have to be presented before court again. 

So far the court has heard evidence from State witness Cheryl Zondi, who gave an emotionally charged account of allegedly being raped and sexually groomed while she was a member and singer at Omotoso's Jesus Dominion International Church (JDI). 

Omotoso faces 63 main charges and 34 alternative counts, including human trafficking, rape, sexual assault, racketeering and conspiracy in aiding another person to commit sexual assault. 

His two co-accused, Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho, are accused of recruiting girls from all over the country for purposes of sexual exploitation.

The 58-year-old televangelist allegedly trafficked more than 30 girls and women who were from various branches of his church to a house in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, where he allegedly sexually exploited them.

The pastor was arrested on April 20, 2017, by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, at the Port Elizabeth Airport. 

The pastor has been denied bail on two occasions, as he was deemed a flight risk. The women were arrested in November 2017 and are out on bail of R2,000.

The case was postponed to July 30. It’s unclear who will preside over the matter permanently. 

African News Agency/ANA