A minister and an MP, who are responsible for women’s issues, have expressed outrage at the “brutally inhumane and unnecessary style of cross-examination by advocate Peter Daubermann” in the rape trial of Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso.
Minister of Women in the Presidency Bathabile Dlamini and the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency Thandi Memela were specifically reacting to the way Daubermann cross-examined 22-year-old Cheryl Zondi – a complainant in the Omotoso trial.
Omotoso and his two co-accused are accused of 63 charges and 34 alternative charges, which include rape, sexual assault and racketeering.
This week, Zondi testified that Omotoso raped and sexually assaulted her from the age of 14.
Under cross-examination, difficult questions were posed to her, including some aimed at establishing just how deep she believed Omotoso had penetrated her and why she didn’t scream.
She received praise for the manner in which she handled the questions.
However, in a joint statement on Thursday, Dlamini and Memela said, while lawyers should act in their clients’ best interests, they should be “fair and courteous” toward everyone, particularly sexual violence survivors.
“We salute the bravery and fortitude of Cheryl Zondi. She is an inspiration to millions of young women who have broken the silence on sexual harassment,” Dlamini and Memela added.
They acknowledged that an accused had a legal right to cross-examine witnesses.
However, “such rights are limited… by the interpretative duty of the defence to ensure that during cross-examination, the basic rights of witnesses are not encroached upon”.
The committee and the minister also pointed out that the Criminal Procedure Act instructed the presiding officer to impose reasonable limits if the cross-examination was found to be “protracted unreasonably and thereby causing the proceedings to be delayed unreasonably”.
“The prosecution in the matter further carries an obligation to protect State witnesses by objecting to inappropriate and/or irrelevant lines of questioning,” they said.
Daubermann’s behaviour and the conduct of other “insensitive officials of justice” dissuades sexual violence survivors from coming forward, they said.
Dlamini and Memela conveyed their “prayers and words of affirmation” to Zondi.
“It is unfortunate that you have had to endure secondary victimization and trauma during this experience,” they added.
“We encourage you to nonetheless take strength in the opportunity that this experience presents you, and the multitudes of women whose experiences are similar to yours.
“At your tender age, God has given you the strength of warriors to fight the evil that has mounted your young life. We are proud of the courage you have shown.
“May you continue to stand for truth, and to lead even in your vulnerability. Through your experience, millions in the country now have a sense of the excruciating difficulties faced by victims of sexual violence in our justice system. Through you, millions of survivors have gained the voice and strength to speak out.”