On Cheryl Zondi, and how the justice system fails survivors

OPINION

On Monday the trial of Nigerian Pastor Timothy Omotoso began in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth. First witness, 22-year-old Cheryl Zondi, was cross-examined and made to relive her traumatic experience by her alleged abuser’s defence.

Omotoso’s defence Peter Daubermann has drawn widespread criticism by activists and the public, who have questioned the ways in which the justice system continues to fail victims of gender-based violence and abuse.

Daubermann cross-examined the 22-year old woman and charged unsparing questions about the graphic events about the day she claimed she was sexually assaulted by Omotoso. He pressed her with questions that pushed her into a corner, as though he was trying to convince her that her statement is false.

As South Africa is dubbed “the rape capital of the world”, the justice system continues to fail survivors. The Omotoso trial is a good example of why some of the rape or gender-based victims may choose not to report the cases. For a survivor to be subjected to secondary rape and severe trauma from attorneys during cross-examination is disturbing.

South Africa has a constitution that safeguards women’s rights, but why is it that women are still afraid to exercise their rights and report cases of violence? The behaviour of Daubermann and the likes of him dissuades sexual violence survivors from breaking their silence. The anguish which victims of gender-based violence deal with often doubles when they are made to take the blame for what their abusers put them through.

Advocate and visiting Professor of Law at Wits University, James Grant, says he thinks that it may be time to re-look at the law.

“Unfortunately, I have to say that it has been rethought several times and we are at the position now where, in fact, in law, there are provisions in place for a judge to intervene where gratuitous questions are being asked,” he told 702.

The behaviour of insensitive attorneys in courts and unethical police officials remains a major cause for alarm in society, especially with regard to how they handle sexual or gender-based violence survivors. The lack of an effective justice system for these survivors contributes to a pervasive and normalised rape culture.

Daubermann’s line of questioning makes one think that if a woman doesn’t report a crime committed against her, that the crime wasn’t committed; it exacerbates the lived traumatic experience for the victims. It’s the same behaviour that the society has adopted for decades when dealing with sexual violence survivors, shaming and victimising them for having been abused.

Violent crime in South Africa is rife in general and women continue to bear the brunt of being victims. More criminal cases are dragging and as a result, people have lost faith in the justice system.

Also on Monday, Thabani Mzolo’s trial was postponed. Mzolo stands accused of numerous charges, including the murder of Zolile Khumalo, a student at the Mangosuthu University of Technology. Khumalo was gunned down at her off-site residence in the Durban CBD. It has been four months since Khumalo was killed and the accused arrested, and not many developments have been made on the case since. Her family remain subjected to pain as they walk in and out of courts without seeing any justice prevailing.

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South Africa still has a long way to go when it comes to how gender-based violence victims. The prejudice and persecution they face during the process of trying to report what they have been through is alarming; from police officers who don’t want to open cases or can’t conclude investigations, to lawyers who ask revolting questions.

If South Africa is to curb rampant rape culture and sexual violence, it has to start by re-looking at how the justice system from policing departments to courts of law, treats those who come forward and report cases of sexual or gender-based violence.

Featured image by Nolwandle Zondi

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