Zondi is a key witness in the state’s human trafficking, rape and abuse of young women case against Omotoso, a pastor.
Mkhwebane said after Zondi’s testimony against Omotoso, in which she detailed how she was allegedly abused by him, Zondi was informed by a police brigadier that there was a potential threat on her life.
“Upon receipt of this information she decided to seek witness protection and reported her concerns and fears to the office of witness protection. On November 2 2018, the complainant met with the head of witness protection in Gauteng who explained to her how the witness protection works, including indicating to her, among others, that she will need to change her name so that her identity can be protected. From this the complainant believed that her educational aspirations will be compromised by the move and, most importantly, she will lose the support of her friends and her family,” she said.
Mkhwebane said her office was approached by the CRL Rights Commission's Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva on behalf of Zondi on November 15 2018, alleging maladministration on the part of the office for witness protection of the national director of public prosecutions.
She said notwithstanding the risk to her safety, Zondi declined to be placed in a witness protection programme as she was of the view that the system was extremely rigid, too disruptive and too unsympathetic to victims of crime.
The public protector said: “I found that the allegations that the members of the office for witness protection failed to ... consider other means of witness protection as envisaged in the Witness Protection Act is substantiated.”
Mkhwebane said providing the complainant an option to stay where she was, when she clearly did not feel safe, did not constitute alternative means of protection as envisaged in the act and did not meet the standards of the service that the state and the office for witness protection committed to and are expected of a public functionary.
“The act recognises in section 10 that there might be circumstances in which witnesses or related persons might not be able to adjust to the witness protection programme as invoked through the provisions of the act, having regard to personal characteristics, circumstances and family or other relationships.
“In such circumstances, the act implores the director to consider and explore the availability of other means of protection, without invoking [entry into the witness protection programme].
“To abandon such a witness or victim if he/she indicates that they will not be able to adjust to the programme, is in disregard of the very rights that the government and the institutions concerned profess to recognise and commit to.”