Mkhwebane acts on Zondi's plea

Cheryl Zondi is joined on stage by CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva during the launch of her foundation in Johannesburg yesterday. / Thulani Mbele
Cheryl Zondi is joined on stage by CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva during the launch of her foundation in Johannesburg yesterday. / Thulani Mbele

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has called for an investigation into the police's witness protection programme after a witness in the Tim Omotoso rape trial lodged a complaint with her office.

Cheryl Zondi, 22, who was the first witness to testify against Omotoso, launched a foundation in Johannesburg yesterday which she said would help woman and children who have been abused by spiritual leaders.

Zondi said her experiences as a witness in the case had also pushed her to lodge a complaint requesting Mkhwebane to investigate problems within the witness protection programme.

Mkhwebane said Zondi's complaint warranted an urgent meeting with the ministers of police and justice, noting that she was concerned that the victims of abuse were exposed to secondary victimisation within the system.

"The matter is so serious and so scary that apparently there is information that there is money which is promised to whoever can take the life of Cheryl and the other girls," said the public protector.

"It's very urgent and we are trying our very best to meet."

Zondi won the hearts of South Africans when she bravely took the stand at the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth to face gruelling questioning from Omotoso's lawyer.

She was 13 years old when she joined Omotoso's Jesus Dominion Church in Mpumalanga. Zondi, who was supported by her relatives and gender-based groups, said she wanted her organisation to help women and children who suffer sexual abuse at the hands of religious leaders.

"As you all know I stood up about the sexual abuse, the psychological oppression I suffered at the hands of someone who was supposed to be a man of God.

"To a certain extent, this kind of abuse is unheard of and even ignored because people do not want to believe that their spiritual leaders are capable of such atrocities," said Zondi.

Chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural and Religious Rights (CRL), Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, was announced as Zondi's deputy in her nonprofit organisation.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said she had decided to back Zondi after realising she was eager to make a difference.

"When she asked me to be her deputy chair I rose to the occasion," she said.

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