A heavy contingent of police officials had to be brought in to ensure order and stability as Timothy Omotoso made his bail application appearance in Port Elizabeth.
More than 1000 worshippers from the Jesus Domination International Church filled the streets around the Port Elizabeth Magistrate on Wednesday and Thursday, in support of their pastor who was arrested more than a week ago.
As allegations of a wide web of manipulation, sexual harassment and molestation emerged in court from Hawks investigators, Omotoso’s supporters sang, danced and prayed from morning till late afternoon after the hearings, which are still under way.
On the opposite side of the road were women with placards containing messages opposing the bail application.
The worshippers would not be deterred by the thunderstorms, accompanied by bolting lightning and heavy rains that broke out from the morning.
“We have prayed for a miracle from God; the God of Omotoso will teach these unbelievers an unforgettable lesson,” they shouted.
They said they had prayed for a natural disaster that would prove that their prophet was innocent.
“They will see when the signs come,” said the supporters.
Inside courtroom 22 their prophet, whom they refer to as the “Man of God”, made his first appearance on his bail application.
Gasps of shock filled the room as the state presented its amended charge sheet.
Representing the state, Advocate Nceba Ntelwa, announced that the charges – initially identified as one charge of sexual assault – currently stood at four and the counts at 22, including two counts of rape.
The applicant was represented by Alwyn Griebenou and Alfonso Hatting, who led the defence team.
A notable presence was that of Omotoso’s 51-year-old wife, Taiwo. Her presence was in contrast to that of the young female escort known as Lulu, who had been his chief supporter during his first court appearance following his dramatic arrest on April 20.
Omotoso smiled, laughed and shook his head throughout the damning testimonies, which revealed how he lured unsuspecting girls to his bedroom for sexual advances under prophetic pretences.
There were sighs of disbelief when the Hawks chief investigating officer, warrant officer Peter Plaatjies, read out an affidavit that presented the state’s case against the applicant.
“The modus operandi of the applicant is similar to other cases of the same nature,” said Plaatjies.
He said that – so far – 13 women had been lured by alleged recruiters to serve as the entertainers of Omotoso.
He said the recruiters would identify young girls that met Omotoso’s “specifications” and arrange a parade for him in specific towns during JDI church services and crusades.
“When he was satisfied with the picked girls and had made his final selection, he sent them to Durban,” said Plaatjies.
“He conducted interview sessions, where he attained personal information and their backgrounds. The girls would begin their transformation and were given large amounts of money, either in cash or through money transfers from relevant service providers,” he said.
He said the common factors among the girls were that they were poor and lacked a father figure.
“At one time, he would keep about 40 girls in the houses, known as mission houses, in Durban.”
Allegations of a wide web of manipulation, sexual harassment and molestation dominated the testimony by the Hawks.
“Pastor Omotoso has a thick wall of protocol around him; this wall is made up of ex-convicts, who serve as his bodyguards and various officials of the state, at different levels, including police officials,” said Plaatjies.
New allegations of illegally obtained South African travelling documents came up. Plaatjies said these were used to travel – and resulted in deportation from Europe.
“He came into South Africa in 2000, after being barred from England, following an arrest on charges of fraud,” said Plaatjies.
“When he arrived here he had no documents in place but he managed to secure documents illegally. These included a work permit,” he said.
Plaatjies narrated the Hawks’ colourful pursuit of Omotoso, which dates back to prior to the first television expose, flighted on investigative journalism TV programme Special Assignment on April 17.
He said Omotoso was a high flight risk.
“He has no fixed address, he refused to hand in his travel documents, and evaded arrest on the Easter weekend with the assistance of a senior official of the Hawks who used state property to help him escape,” he said.
He told of an arrest attempt that turned into a wild goose chase in Bloemfontein and a wife who failed to provide proof of an address that could be verified as their fixed address of residence.
During the narration of the Bloemfontein “escape”, Omotoso chuckled and turned his head to look at his followers sitting behind him in the public gallery.
Omotoso’s legal team disputed the allegations and attempted to make Plaatjies divulge specific details in the developing investigation.
This was despite a court order on Wednesday not to divulge specific personal information of witnesses as indicated in the investigation docket and affidavits from the investigation teams.
The testimonies by the Plaatjies alluded to the Taiwo Omotoso possibly being an accomplice on some of the allegations.
Speaking to City Press, Robert Netshiunda, national spokesperson of the Hawks, said they would apply the law to bring to book the accomplices to Omotoso’s alleged crimes.
“We conduct our investigations and wherever they lead us, we apply the law,” said Netshiunda.
“If we find an accomplice to the alleged crimes, more arrests will be made,” he said.
The case continues to day three in courtroom 22 on Friday.
A female member of JDI sitting inside the court room said Omotoso’s journey was a reflection of how Jesus was crucified in his innocence.
“We are being shown how Jesus suffered on earth, but he prevailed and so will our Daddy,” said the unidentified woman.
Omotoso remains in custody, but has been moved from the Mount Road police station holding cells, where he was kept since arrest.
He is now kept in a local prison facility.