All eyes were on Judge Mandela Makaula in the Port Elizabeth High Court on Friday where he furnished reasons for his decision to recuse himself from the human trafficking trial involving Nigerian Pastor Timothy Omotoso.
The matter will in all likelihood have to start afresh, meaning that a new judge has been appointed to the case and evidence previously led may have to be presented before court again. Judge President Selby Mbenenge presided over the matter on Friday and the trial will resume on July 30.
So far the court has heard evidence from state witness Cheryl Zondi, who gave an emotionally charged account of allegedly being raped and sexually groomed while she was a member and singer at the Jesus Dominion International Church (JDI).
It is understood that Makaula’s decision to recuse himself relates to his ownership of a guesthouse, through a company, where certain of the state witnesses in the trial had been accommodated.
According to a letter defence attorney Peter Daubermann wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Eastern Cape, this revelation was made by state advocate Nceba Ntelwa during talks between the parties in chambers earlier in February.
Ntelwa did not reveal the names of the state witnesses, even though just one witness, Zondi, had taken the stand so far.
According to Daubermann, Makaula agreed to recuse himself and stated that he would provide reasons on March 15.
Daubermann has been relentless in pushing for Makaula’s recusal, citing reasons of him “being biased” and “protecting” Zondi.
In October last year, Makaula dismissed an application for leave to appeal his earlier decision not to recuse himself.
At the time, Makaula said the defence’s argument that he had a “cosy” relationship with Zondi was disingenuous and deliberately taken out of context.
Then late last year the Supreme Court of Appeal turned down Omotoso’s application for Judge Makaula to recuse himself and for the charges against the pastor and his co-accused to be quashed.
Omotoso, who faces 63 main charges and 34 alternative counts which include human trafficking, rape, sexual assault, racketeering and conspiracy in aiding another person to commit sexual assault, has since filed a petition in the Constitutional Court in the matter.
His two co-accused, Sulani and Sitho, are accused of recruiting girls from all over the country for purposes of sexual exploitation.
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.
The pastor was arrested on April 20, 2017, by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, at the Port Elizabeth Airport.
The pastor has been denied bail on two occasions, as he was deemed a flight risk. The women were arrested in November 2017 and are out on bail of R2,000.
– African News Agency (ANA)