Johannesburg - It was an emotional day in Gqeberha High Court when Cheryl Zondi – the 13th witness in the Nigerian televangelist Pastor Timothy Omotoso’s trial on charges of rape and human trafficking – took the stand.
Zondi, who cried throughout the testimony, described in detail how she found the Jesus Dominion International Church after suffering in her own life with the divorce of her parents and being estranged from her father.
She had this longing for a father figure, and to fill that void, she thought God was the way, and a group of friends helped her join a youth group that formed part of the church in 2009.
She said that when she was 13, her mother was struggling financially.
Zondi described how when she stepped into the church, she found it almost heaven-like; she described how beautiful the draping was, how there were many young people involved, and how beautifully the choir sang, and she decided to call that church her spiritual home.
She said she loved to sing, and she noticed there were about six particular girls who walked in with Omotoso as he came into the church. They were the musicians of the congregation; she described them as looking like angels as they wore silk-like white tracksuits and the same shoes and sang beautifully.
She vowed that she wanted to join the choir, which was close to Omotoso, so she auditioned and joined the group.
Zondi took the court to Durban, where she explained her alleged ordeal. She said Omotoso asked her to stay with him in Durban, and she thought she was going to stay with his family because, in her head, she was aware he had children and a wife.
She said she found other girls in the Durban house, and the next day she alleged that she was called to Omotoso’s bedroom. He asked what she wanted from him, and she said she wanted to sing as beautifully as the choir. He was angered by that.
Zondi then described how Omotoso asked her to go to bed, he started playing with her breasts, he then opened her thighs (in graphic terms), and he performed what she said was a sexual interaction with her inside his bed. She said she was shocked, not comprehending what was going on, and left.
She said the following day after service, she was again called to Omotoso’s room, where she alleges the same happened: he asked her to lie in bed, he got on top of her, he took Vaseline, fiddled with her, and allegedly sexually assaulted her again.
Zondi said she was quite shocked that this man of God that she loved and respected would do such a thing. She said he asked her what was wrong because she was obviously shocked. She said nothing was wrong, but she was dismayed.
Zondi described how Omotoso said what happened was a covenant between herself, Omotoso, and God, and she had no right to tell anyone, and if she told anyone, she would die because she would break it. She said she vowed to keep this a secret; she was fearful and wanted to make sure that she didn’t break the covenant.
The trial has experienced numerous delays since the arrest of Omotoso in April 2017.
Omotoso, who has been behind bars for almost six years, believes he is being persecuted for his faith and is determined to get the case thrown out of court. He plans to sue the State for wrongful arrest.
Omotoso was denied bail while the two South African women he is charged with are out on bail.
The three are facing 63 charges, including racketeering, trafficking in persons, rape, and sexual assault.
It is alleged that Omotoso, 63, who was addressed as “the man of God”, was the leader of the JDI church, and his co-accused were his assistants.
JDI had major branches in South Africa, Nigeria and Israel, with Durban being its headquarters in the country.
On Monday, the 12th witness, Vuyiseka Nontlazi, testified and told the court that she was invited by her stepmother to JDI church in 2009, when she was 17 years old.
She detailed the sexual abuse she faced over a period of five years in Durban, Nigeria, and Israel, allegedly at the hands of Omotoso.
Nontlazi said she was left disappointed by her spiritual father, Omotoso; she told the court that she was afraid to reprimand him for his alleged sexual assault due to the power he had.
She said she was also afraid that Omotoso would cast a spell on her after he once told her that her life would be worthless without him. Omotoso denied all sexual assault and rape claims made against him by Nontlazi.
The trial continues.