Cheryl Zondi – the woman who bravely faced brutal cross-examining at the rape trial of Paster Timothy Omotoso – has announced the launch of her non-profit organisation, the Cheryl Zondi Foundation, aimed at helping victims of sexual abuse.
At a media briefing held at the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities offices in Braamfontein, Zondi said the foundation was started for the purposes of supporting women and children who have been mentally, emotionally, spiritually and sexually abused in “sacred’’ spaces.
“My vision is to help as many people as possible who have gone through abuse of any kind. One of our objectives is to assist women and children that have gone through the same experience that I have, especially in places such as churches and other religious spaces,” she said.
Zondi is one of the women who accused Omotoso of rape and was the first state witness to testify against the pastor during his trial in October. She was dubbed a hero for the bravery she showed on the stand while being cross-examined by the pastor’s advocate, Peter Daubermann.
Omotoso, a pastor of the Jesus Dominion International Church made headlines after he was charged with human trafficking and rape last year.
Zondi (22) explained that there was a lack of awareness and fear of speaking out about sexual abuse among people in religious settings.
“When the perpetrator is a spiritual leader, it is not easy for people to speak out because they put themselves in vulnerable positions,” she said.
“There are people who are devoted to the leader so they are devoted to destroying you [the victim]. People are willing to do anything to protect their leaders.”
The newly launched organisation boasts the tag line “turning pain into purpose”.
“There has to be a purpose for your pain, a purpose bigger than you, because the thing that was meant to break you is now making you stronger,” explained Zondi.
Deputy chairperson of the foundation, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, who is also the chairperson of the CRL Commission and who is working with Zondi, said that the formation of the foundation was announced at the Rhema Bible Church in Randburg on Sunday.
“We made the announcement in a church because it is not about the church, but it is about the individual who carried out the abuse. The church is not the perpetrator, the individual is,” she said.
According to Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, she was approached by Zondi to take up the position of deputy chairperson of the foundation because she [Zondi] wanted to do something meaningful after her experience.
Zondi also confirmed that she had laid a complaint with the Public Protector about the witness protection programme, which she believed was flawed. This came after she had received threats to her life after speaking out.
“The system does not work for us. It is the responsibility of the state to protect victims and their rights, but that is not what is happening,” she said.
Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who was also in attendance revealed that she had approached and engaged with the department of justice to affect change in the country’s witness protection system.
“It’s like Cheryl said. The system is not protecting victims and we need urgent intervention,”she said.
Zondi said her wish was for the state to teach the youth to be able to deal with complex and multifaceted acts of abuse and for young people not to blame themselves for what they experience.