South Africa: Cheryl Zondi Asks for Changes to the System - 'Witness Protection Is Failing Us'

Video screenshot of Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso and his two co-accused Zukiswa Sitho and Lusanda Sulani in court.

Having become a symbol of strength and hope for South Africa's rape survivors following her damning testimony against disgraced pastor Timothy Omotoso, Cheryl Zondi now wants changes made in the witness protection system.

"We want to push dramatic changes in the system to make it work for and not against victims. And as part of fulfilling that particular objective, I have personally laid a complaint with the Public Protector," she said during a media briefing on Tuesday where she launched the Cheryl Zondi Foundation.

Zondi's newly established foundation will run campaigns to make the public aware of the kind of abuse she and others have suffered by helping families and friends of victims caught in abusive circumstances.

Zondi approached Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who was also present at Tuesday's briefing, to investigate the witness protection programme. Zondi also asked in her complaint that changes be made to the programme.

"In my own experience, I have realised that the system does not work for victims necessarily, especially young victims. When a young person helps clean up the country by getting rapists off the streets, it is then the responsibility of the state to protect that person and their rights," she said.

In response to questions from the media about what the Public Protector was doing regarding Zondi's complaint, Mkhwebane said she was engaging with Justice Minister Michael Masutha and Police Minister Bheki Cele and had requested a meeting with them.

"I have approached the ministers of justice and police. We were planning to meet by this week, so that we can have an urgent intervention," Mkhwebane said.

System more punishment than justice

She said the matter was "serious and scary" as there was also information that money had been promised to people who could kill Zondi and other young women involved in the case.

Mkhwebane said she believed that the two ministers would be able to intervene.

"As Cheryl has mentioned, the system, the way it is structured, especially the witness protection system, is not protecting the victim but victimising the victim further. For now we are still trying to invite them to the meeting, but if it comes to a point of subpoenaing the ministers to come, because this is a crisis for us, then I think we will have to do that," Mkhwebane said.

Zondi said it was neither just nor constitutional to ask a young person to drop out of school and forget their identity.

She added that making young witnesses move away from their families and cutting all communication between them was more punishment than justice.

Zondi encouraged survivors of abuse to try and overcome the abuse they had suffered.

Call for support

"Women and young people who can hear me, please stop blaming yourselves for evil acts that had nothing to do with you. I want this self-blame and shame narrative eradicated. You need to own your story," Zondi said.

"There is and there has to be a purpose for your pain. A purpose that is far bigger than you and requires you to pick up the pieces and be something. Move on with your life more empowered because the thing that was meant to break you is now making you.

"Just because we have suffered abuse of any kind does not mean we must no longer have joy," she said.

Zondi said great support would be needed for the foundation's vision to be carried out.

"I'm going to need people to stop turning a blind eye and help within your own capacity. You don't have to be an organisation, you don't have to be a big business tycoon to make a difference," she said.

The Omotoso trial was provisionally postponed to December 10 to allow the defence time to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Source: News24

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