Cheryl Zondi explains how pastor Timothy Omotoso would fondle his penis and rape her every weekend

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The steps leading from the cells to Court A in the Port Elizabeth High Court served as a catwalk this week for Timothy Omotoso.

Tomorrow, the flamboyant Nigerian-born televangelist will walk up those same steps again as his lawyer prepares to tear the testimony of one of his 23 victims to shreds.

This week, Cheryl Zondi (22), spoke of how Omotoso (60) raped her allegedly repeatedly after she joined his Jesus Dominion International church at the age of 14. While the rest of the court was stunned into silence, Omotoso’s wife, Taiwo, sniggered and shook her head from the gallery.

The trial of the pastor, accused of crimes ranging from rape and sexual assault to human trafficking and racketeering, began in dramatic fashion on Monday. He arrived, Bible in hand, wearing shoes that matched his shiny gold and black jacket. He and his two co-accused, Lusanda Solani and Zukiswa “Love Bubble” Sitho, greeted each other like best friends who hadn’t seen each other in months. The three have refused to enter a plea on the 63 main and 34 alternative charges against them.

After four failed bail applications since his arrest in April last year – which included a stop at the Supreme Court of Appeal – Omotoso’s lawyer, Advocate Peter Daubermann, tried again to have the case thrown out. He asked Judge Mandela Makaula to dismiss the case, saying the state’s case was thin, but the judge dismissed his request.

But on Wednesday, the trio’s jokes and audible laughter fell silent as Zondi, the first witness, walked into the room. She testified that she joined the church in Grade 7 after singing at a church gathering. One of the pastors told her “Omotoso had said he liked the way I sang”.

Zondi had befriended three girls in Omotoso’s inner circle, one of whom told her he’d instructed her to give Zondi his cellphone number. She was allegedly told she had to call “the Man of God” every day, and SMS him up to six times a day. “He wanted to know all my movements,” she testified.

“In the morning, I would need to send him a text saying: ‘Good morning, I hope you slept well.’ In the afternoon, when my mother sent me to the shops, I would need to tell him that I am now going to the shops to buy sugar and tea.”

Omotoso allegedly responded to her SMSes with calls every time. The conversations started with small talk about her family and proceed to her love life.

“There would be a constant thing in these phone calls. He would ask me if I had a love life, then how far I wanted him to go with me; how close I wanted to be to him. At the time, I was 14 years old. I didn’t have a love life and knew nothing of managing one. I didn’t have a boyfriend and didn’t have a sexual experience,” she said, breaking down.

Omotoso told her he would take charge of that. It was at a church conference in Durban to which she had been invited to sing one weekend that Zondi’s teenage innocence was shattered. By the end of it, she’d become a member of the all-girl inner circle that escorted Omotoso, and had become a resident of his “mission house” in Umhlanga.

“One of the house rules was taking a bath or a shower about three to four times each day. I was told by Thandeka, one of the groomers, that Omotoso didn’t like foul smells in his house. I was also told that one of the requirements for new girls was a one-on-one meeting with Omotoso upstairs in his office,” Zondi said.

It wasn’t long before she was allegedly summoned to go upstairs, but arrived there to find the “office” was his bedroom.

“I was confused when I got to the door. I didn’t know whether to knock or just walk in. Thandeka told me to just walk in. Omotoso was inside; he instructed me to lock the door behind me,” she said.

"He reached out to me and hugged me and tugged at the straps of my bra, while he touched me all over my back with his hands. I knew that I shouldn’t be so close to this man, like that in his bed. But I did it anyway because, in that church, you had better do what he said. I had seen what happened to people who disobeyed him. He pushed me on top of the bed and got on top of me … I was in so much shock, I just lay there as he moved all over me. He was having the time of his life, laughing while he was doing this.”

Then his demeanour changed. “He saw that I was upset … He dismissed me and said I should come back later that night.”

She allegedly returned to his room after preparing herself, according to the house rules.

“When I got there, I was dressed in a sleeping dress, stockings and a head scarf … he told me to join him in bed. He was busy fondling his penis; he told me I must be free and do whatever I wanted to do. I was 14 and didn’t understand what he meant. He told me to take off the scarf because it made me look old, he told me to remove the sleeping dress … [and] take off what I was wearing at the bottom garment. I did as I was told and I was now naked with who I thought was the Man of God, in his bedroom,” she said.

Zondi, who gave permission for her name and photograph to be used, then described her alleged rape by Omotoso to the court.

“He would do this to me every weekend, on Saturday and Sunday if there was time. If I was there on school holidays, he would expect me to do this every day. The only time I would catch a break was when I was on a menstrual cycle, which I had to report to him by SMS. This would happen in Durban, in Port Elizabeth, in Richards Bay, in Cape Town, in East London, in Secunda, in Gauteng; he also took us to Israel and Nigeria,” she said, adding that he would use “musical training” as a pretext for summoning her.

Zondi, one of the youngest of Omotoso’s alleged victims, went to his home and church most weekends and school holidays – despite her single mother’s mistrust of the pastor and his church.

The reason, she said, was because Omotoso told her that God didn’t like people who disobeyed him, and that those who did fell ill and died.

Omotoso’s lawyer will begin cross-examining Zondi tomorrow.

– Citypress


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