COURAGE is very important. Yet, like a muscle, it is strengthened by use. The truism in this allusion was recently made potent by the rare display of strength and courage by Cheryl Zondi in the wake of the on-going trial at the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth, South Africa of South Africa’s popular Nigerian Pastor and Televangelist of the Jesus Dominion Ministry international, Timothy Omotoso, as she showed uncanny public readiness to stand up for herself against all odds through uncommon vitality.
We recall that Omotoso and his two co-accused face over 60 charges relating to the alleged kidnapping, racketeering and trafficking of more than 30 girls and Women. Zondi, a 22year-old lady and the first witness in the trial alleged that the Pastor had been abusing her since she was 14 years of age and living with the Pastor and other young ladies in his Durban property—an abuse she says, took place and spread into encounters in Nigeria, Port Elizabeth and a host of other cities.
However, during the court proceedings in the trial, the defence lawyer, Advocate Peter Daubermann, in an attempt to act in the best interest of his client or to defend an alleged rapist so to say, subjected Cheryl without discretion to denigrating, demeaning, nasty and tawdry questionings.
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At some point, the Chief Judge, Justice Makaula, had to go against the norm to intervene especially when the question of how many centimetres was Cheryl penetrated by the accused came up in the questioning. To be sure, it is disgusting, yet frightening to watch a witness being subjected to such public belittling and disrespect as it speaks to, and further validates the all too familiar reasons why victims and survivors of s3xual assault would rather choose to play safe with the silence culture than come out boldly to speak up about their ordeals. To put it differently, a ‘Daubermann’ kind of cross-examination subjects survivors to what Minister of Women in the South African Presidency, Bathabile Dlamini, and the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency, Thandi Memela, called secondary victimization and trauma and thus discourage them further from speaking up on these abuses that have become replete, with quite a considerable number being swept under the carpet for fear of stigmatization and public smirch in the name of questionings.
Cheryl Zondi evidently stood up admirably to the taunting, heckling and insensitive questions and It has to be stated and recognized that her distinct courage would serve as a strengthening example to many s3xual assault survivors out there as she displayed moral courage and doggedly confronted the fear of social disapproval to stand up for justice in the face of obscene contumacy.
She obviously came fully prepared, and reminds us of the example of Dr. Ford Blassey in the Judge Brett Kavanuah’s nomination saga in the United States; Zondi held her head up high all through the gruelling days she spent on the stand, against all formerly held notions that cross-examinations were known to break women. Brave Zondi’s courage in front of the whole nation was liberating much as it was empowering as she obviously outsmarted all efforts by the defense to question her credibility by appropriately attending to questions as well as repelling a blitzkrieg of others.
Nonetheless, it is a well-established fact that patriarchal notions fuel violence against women. We live in a society that has always hesitated to respect women as they are labelled weak, wimpy and emotional. Yet, one way to counteract this notion is to be courageous and give a good fight.
It’s about time girls and women got a little fire in our bones for the things that truly matter. On every score, Zondi showed that she is brave and represents a shining example to not only all rape survivors whose cases met cold death during trial because they couldn’t summon enough stamina to withstand the brutality of cross-examination processes, but also to all women out there whose voices have been silent over the years against all gender-based violence and the gross gender inequality that is still in existence all over the world.
The truth really is that If Zondi didn’t stand up to the occasion, considering the level of brutal questioning she was subjected to in an attempt to defend an alleged rapist especially in an era where victims of s3xual assault continue to increase by the day, it could be advanced, if not deduced, that a lot of girls who are victims or who are likely going to fall victims — as the society would appear to be breeding s3xual perverts and anti-social elements at an intolerable spate – would no longer have the courage to speak up on such abuses or even go to court to legally seek justice. Zondi has thus earned and become the poster girl for us all as we wage a relentless battle against all forms of gender-based violence and the accompanying traumatization in the society.
Be that as it may, this is not to undermine the constitutional provisions backing the legal proceedings of handling a s3xual abuse case. But, for what it is worth, survivors are to be protected by the law, and not the other way round and it is our duty as a society to see to it that no other s3xual assault survivor is made to face some persecution in whatsoever form or shape ever again.
No doubt Cheryl Zondi is and has become a symbol of strength and has proven that being bold isn’t only about coming to the street with placards and shouting for women rights and demanding justice, as it is also about being brave from our thoughts, followed by our actions geared toward a more gender-inclusive world. Women are not just for the beautiful jewellery that hides them within themselves, they are and must also be for the rifles and the guns that shoot every undue and unjust taboo of the society against women into smithereens.
The message of Zondi to every survivor out there is: be bold and own your story, for only then can the world be shaken and purified by it. Meanwhile, as the trial of Omotoso resumes in court, it is our earnest prayer that justice is served accordingly.
Yakubu is with the Department of Mass Communication, Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria.
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