A Nigerian pastor based in Durban made his first appearance in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court on Friday on charges of human trafficking and sexual assault.
The pastor was arrested at the Port Elizabeth Airport on Thursday. The controversial pastor also runs church branches in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Johannesburg and in Bloemfontein.
The 58-year-old televangelist allegedly trafficked more than 30 girls and women who were from various branches of his church to a house in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal where he allegedly sexually exploited them.
During court proceedings on Friday, state prosecutor Zelda Swanepoel said that the state was not in a position to proceed with a formal bail application as the pastor’s personal circumstances needed to be verified.
Swanepoel said the pastor faced four charges, and more charges could possibly be added as the investigation team still needed to travel to other provinces to conduct further investigations.
She indicated that two of the four charges — human trafficking — fell under a schedule 6 offence and the state would be opposing bail.
“The state is not in a position to proceed with any bail application, the accused was only arrested last night. Nothing of his personal particulars, including his address, his passport and authority to be in the country — nothing has been determined,” said Swanepoel.
The pastor has no previous convictions or pending cases against his name, according to his attorney Alwyn Griebenow.
Griebenow said the draft charge sheet indicated that the counts against his client stem back to 2014 and 2015.
“But if you look at the CAS it is clear that these charges were only laid in April this year; be that as it may, the allegations against the accused have been in and out of the press since the end of last year. These are not new allegations … it seems that the investigation against the accused only started in April this year.”
Griebenow told the court that police conduct “reeked of malice”.
“The accused was arrested at the airport after it was arranged with the investigating officer that the accused fly down from Durban in order to meet up with the investigating officer with his attorneys,” Griebenow told the court.
“It seems that the arrest of the accused was premature because the state is not in a position to verify his personal circumstances despite the fact that these allegations have been in the media since the end of last year.”
Griebenow wanted a formal bail application to proceed as soon as next week, and said his client was the “well-known” head of an international church and had been living in South Africa for the past 19 years.
Swanepoel argued there was a “big difference” between reports in the media and evidence; she said the state would not be able to proceed with a bail application next week because the investigation team would be conducting investigations in other provinces.
“This is a draft charge sheet and other charges may be added; things could change when the investigating team return,” she said.
The matter was postponed until May 3 for a formal bail application.
Meanwhile, hundreds of congregants from the pastor’s Port Elizabeth church gathered outside the court building in support of the televangelist.
Placards in support of the pastor read that he was a prophet and would “take over”. Groups protesting against the pastor included people from various political parties including the Economic Freedom Fighters, African National Congress and ANC Womens’ League.
“He deserves to rot in jail; he victimised very young children. A man like that cannot be out on the streets,” said EFF student commander Siyasanga Gidana.
Gidana said that the congregants “needed prayer” because she believed it was “so wrong” that they continued to support the pastor.
“They are clearly still under his spell,” said Gidana.
– African News Agency