On Omotoso and continuously giving powerful men a free pass

On Omotoso and continuously giving powerful men a free pass

Redi Tlhabi

We begin the new week with the resumption of the rape trial of Pastor Timothy Omotoso in the Eastern Cape High Court. It is a brand new week, new witnesses will take the stand, but the same old hurts will be triggered.

We expect, once again, that when twin sisters Anele and Neliswa Mxakaza take the stand this week, they too will be asked the same unwarranted, abusive questions: Why did you go to his room? Why did you not scream? Were you not enjoying it?

And the one question that not even the most hardened defenders of violent men have ever asked: how deep did the accused penetrate you? We all gasped. It was an attack on body and soul.

But it happened. The first witness, 22-year-old Cheryl Zondi, was asked by the hostile defence lawyer to explain to the court by how many centimeters his violent penis violated her. This question reflects all that is wrong with our language around sexual violence. It bears the hallmarks of society’s general disregard for power dynamics between powerful men, who prey on little girls and young women, and their victims.

In a normal society, it should sicken us that someone who was 14 at the time that she met and attended Omotoso’s church, has actually seen the 60-year-old pastor’s penis. He was 52 at the time. We should be aghast that the pastor and his supporters contend that everything that happened between the pastor and the many young women in his church was consensual. It should injure our collective moral fibre that a 52-year-old man, who is a leader in this relationship, would even seek consent from a 14-year-old child, his subordinate.

Omotoso is a rapist

This caused outrage, but not enough. The defence advocate, Peter Daubermann, has hit back, saying: “I won’t allow myself to be intimidated by ignorant people.” The nerve. No sir, it is you who is ignorant. It is you who is violating every single dictate that constitutes decency and decorum.

There are limits to how far you can go in defending your client, a rapist and a predator. We can say Omotoso is a rapist even before the court makes that declaration. He is not denying sex with Cheryl, the 14-year-old child and others. He claims it was consensual. But a child cannot consent to sex.

As with the famous Jacob Zuma rape trial, we are asked to believe that these young women, who have known these men since they were children, are so powerful and cunning that the powerful men who have authority, stature and money, cannot “defend” themselves against them.

These poor old men have no choice but to give in and have sex with children? Or in Zuma’s case, sex with a woman who, although an adult then, had known him since she was a baby and regarded him as a father figure, because of his relationship with her late father.

What does it say about these powerful men, that they are willing to jettison all sense of right and wrong and hold on to a morally bankrupt and wicked position?

But they can, because society in general is not willing to do the hard work of unlearning inappropriate behaviour and beliefs. Society is not willing to hold powerful men to a high moral standard and unequivocally demand their probity.

Rape is a cancer that has metastasised

Society continuously gives these men a free pass, where they do not account to anyone and are a law unto themselves. This freedom has allowed these men to have no scruples, to violate little children and women in every situation, and take whatever they want. Their rapacious appetite for control and power has stolen many childhoods and killed so many dreams.

Our inability and refusal to be nuanced when discussing human dynamics, delays powerful people’s reckoning with accountability and thus denies powerless people their justice. From domestic worker to employer, man to woman, teacher to pupil, politician to voter, we refuse to confront the inherent power that comes with a position of authority.

Men refuse to see that their gender has historically afforded them more protection and freedoms than women. White supremacists refuse to see that, historically, their race has afforded them liberties and privileges that their black counterparts have had to fight and die for.

There is no equality when power is skewed towards one person. Cheryl and every child and woman who entered Omotoso’s church were not his equals.

We praise the strength of these young women who are fighting back against the predator, but we lament the never-ending war against women and children. Our outrage as a society is not commensurate with the extent of the nightmare.

Our daily reality is that rape is a cancer that has metastasised. We have learnt to live with it. And that is wrong.

– Redi Tlhabi is an author and news anchor.

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