Counsel for Timothy Omotoso on Monday decried his vilification by the media for his cross-examination of Cheryl Zondi, who has accused the televangelist of grooming and sexually abusing her since the she was a teenager.
At the beginning of Monday’s proceedings in the Port Elizabeth High Court, Peter Daubermann — Omotoso’s lawyer — told Judge Mandela Makaula that public outrage has created the conditions in which his clients have no possibility of receiving a fair trial.
“My client, his supporters and I have been mobbed,” Daubermann said, suggesting that the public’s siding with Zondi has undermined the principle of the presumption of innocence.
The trial against Omotoso and his co-accused, Lusanda Solani and Zukiswa Sitho, began two weeks ago. Omotoso has 63 charges against him, including racketeering, rape, sexual assault and human trafficking, all of which he has refused to plead to.
He is accused of having trafficked more than 30 girls and women who were from branches of his church to a house in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, where he allegedly sexually abused them. Zondi’s cross-examination was concluded last week.
Once proceedings were adjourned last Wednesday, Daubermann, was reportedly followed to his car by a group of protesters, shouting at him to drop the case. Daubermann referred to this incident on Monday. “This mob was chanting that I should drop the case. This is what they were telling me,” he said.
The lawyer’s cross-examination of Zondi, during which he suggested she was a willing participant in the alleged abuse, was the cause of the ire.
During Zondi’s cross-examination last Monday, Judge Mandela Makaula had to reprimand Daubermann for asking her how many centimetres Omotoso had penetrated into her vagina during an alleged incident of sexual abuse.
Daubermann said that he had been “vilified” for his cross-examination. “I have been accused of browbeating the witness … I’ve been accused of adopting questionable methods of cross examination, ” he said.
He added, “for the record”, that he is 100% in support of women’s rights and that he supports the right of members of the public to stand by the complainants giving their testimony in the trial. But, Daubermann added, the attempts to intimidate him and his clients “amount to a direct attack on the judicial system in this country”.
On Sunday morning, heated exchanges between protesters and congregants of Omotoso’s church led to the Jesus Dominion International Church having to be shut down.
Over a hundred protesters reportedly gathered outside the church to demand it close its doors.
With a new witness set to take the stand on Monday, Daubermann implored Judge Makaula to “say something about what is happening here”. “A very dangerous precedent is being set in this court,” he said.
Makaula responded, noting that the televised trial has become a matter of public interest.
He added that he has not been following media reports about the trial in an effort to ensure that his judgment is not interfered with.
Makaula said he could not account for what happens outside of the courtroom. “It’s not happening here. I’m in control here,” he said.
“If it’s a criminal offence, what is perpetrated outside of this court, then it should be reported to the police. And they should investigate whatever criminal conduct there was,” Makaula added.
“Secondly if there is one that is interfering with the other’s rights, a civil application should be made through this court for an interdict,” he said.
Before taking a short adjournment, Makaula asked that both Daubermann and counsel for the state meet him in his chambers to “map a way forward”.