Cheryl Zondi battles sex-tape threat 'from old lover'

Court hears of plan to sell intimate images to abuse-case pastor

16 December 2018 - 00:05 By BELINDA PHETO and ZIMASA MATIWANE


She won the hearts of SA when she took on one of its most powerful religious leaders, but now Cheryl Zondi is engaged in another battle, against an ex-lover who she claims wants to sell a sex tape.
The 22-year-old has been granted an interim court order preventing Johannesburg businessman Michael Brits from "disseminating, displaying, selling and/or duplicating photographs and/or videos of a sexual nature in which the applicant may appear".
According to Zondi's court application, Brits wants to sell the sex tape to Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso, to embarrass and discredit her and to solicit a bribe. It goes on to say Brits had told the whistleblower who helped bring the tape to Zondi's attention that "he wanted the world to know that I am not the 'angel' I am supposedly portraying myself to be".
A full hearing is scheduled for March next year, when Brits, of Stan Road, Morningside, Sandton, gets a chance to contest the order.
Zondi testified in the Port Elizabeth high court in October that Omotoso sexually assaulted her from the age of 14, when she was a member of his Jesus Dominion International Church. Harsh, degrading cross-examination from Omotoso's legal team - including a question on the size of Omotoso's penis and how deeply he had penetrated her - outraged members of the public.
The trial is due to resume on February 4.
The Sunday Times has also learnt that there is allegedly a R500,000 "hit" on Zondi, who is under 24-hour guard after death threats were made against her. These are believed to be from Omotoso's followers.
Zondi, in an exclusive interview with Sunday Times, said this week she first heard about the existence of a sex tape when she was contacted on November 1 by Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, the chair of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. Mkhwanazi-Xaluva had been alerted by a whistleblower.
"I was extremely shocked as I was not aware that I had been recorded and … I felt as though it was a recurrence of the abuse inflicted on me by another man I had previously trusted," Zondi said.
"The implications of this, more especially during such a difficult and sensitive time, are incomprehensible."
She said the campaign against her could affect the decision of other victims in the Omotoso case to testify against him.
"Although I may be in the fore at the moment, I represent and symbolise a much bigger, greater narrative that applies to so many other young men and women out there who are silently waiting to see what they may have to deal with should they break their silence," she said.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva confirmed she was contacted after a whistleblower met Brits over drinks at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton on October 30.
The whistleblower told her that during an evening of socialising with a group of her friends, Brits had showed her photos and videos of Zondi and also spoke about his intention to sell the material to Omotoso. She recognised Zondi because she had friends in Port Elizabeth who were linked to the trial. The next day she alerted a friend in Port Elizabeth who had been assisting Omotoso's alleged victims, who then contacted Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.
"The level of betrayal was just too terrible, especially from someone she trusted at some point in her life, who wants to cash in with this traumatic experience," Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.
Zondi said dissemination of the tape "will be extremely harmful to me and my physical and mental wellbeing".
"Omotoso and his staff would be able to put the photos and videos to good use in the trial, or in the court of public opinion, in order to discredit me, and would be willing to pay him a fortune to get their hands on the material," Zondi added.
She claims she met Brits in February last year and they were romantically involved until October that year. Although they were not in a committed relationship, they were "sexually and intimately engaged with one another".
The court application included affidavits from the whistleblower and the Port Elizabeth women who approached Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.
Acting judge Avrille Maier-Frawley granted the order on November 2, interdicting Brits from sharing or copying any photographs or videos of a sexual nature in which Zondi may appear, until the March hearing.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva also told the Sunday Times she had been alerted in October by a person "high up politically" that intelligence sources had intercepted information that there was a R500,000 bounty on Zondi.
"It is a person higher politically, who should know what he is talking about, who called me personally and told me they had intercepted intelligence from a maximum security prison that her life is at risk," Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.
Zondi was the first witness in the case against the charismatic evangelist pastor who, with co-accused Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho, faces multiple charges of human trafficking, rape, sexual assault and racketeering.
She told the court she was just 13 years old when she joined a branch of Omotoso's church in Secunda, Mpumalanga.
Last week, Zondi launched a foundation aimed at supporting victims of sexual abuse because "there is a lack in awareness".
"People out there are warned to be careful when they are out at night, but they are not necessarily warned when they are going to a church, a traditional space, ancestral space or any other kind of religious setting," said Zondi.
The Sunday Times tried to track down Brits this week for comment.
Photos from several LinkedIn profiles under the same name were shown to employees at the apartment block listed in court papers as his address. Four employees positively identified the man in one of the photos.
However, when contacted, this Michael Brits said he did not know Zondi and had not received any court order.

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