Department of Women on Omotoso trial

Media Statement by Government, Civil Society, Academia, Feminist Activists, and the Private Sector on the Omotoso trial

On behalf of the democratic government of South Africa, and in my capacity as the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women, I have deliberated on the various themes that converge around the case against Timothy Omotoso and his co-accused.

We condemn the acts of gender based violence that occurred in the guise of religion and faith. Today we find adults who took children to places of worship who are accomplices since they also contributed to the grooming of these children as sex slaves. We condemn the hijacking and use of our own buildings and sites for illegal religious practices. What is happening in these places of worship is human trafficking.

Guided by the National Policy Framework for Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality, which establishes a clear vision and framework for gender mainstreaming across laws, policies, procedures and practices pertaining to gendered inequalities - we acknowledge that the National Gender Machinery in government cannot shift public policy agendas for women without the participation of organisations of civil society.

The Ministry of Women has thus invited all pillars of the democratic state to strengthen our national efforts towards a society that realises a South Africa free of all forms of discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, and sexual orientation.

I call upon all South Africans to revisit parenting and strengthen of family systems. It is not normal that more than 60% of children are growing in single-parent households, and that we have moved away from the principle of it takes a village to raise a child. We also know that many parents work away from home. Children are vulnerable from the time they leave school. We must therefore revisit and support school-based clubs that support the life-orientation curriculum.

Together, we acknowledge that the case against Omotoso case brings to the fore the ongoing historical public debate regarding the Women and Law Complexity. Central to this theme is the historical exclusion of women from public life through legal reinforcements, and the use of the law to perpetuate and condone gendered violations of human rights. What this case brings to the fore is the practice of abusers and pedophiles opening churches to lure unsuspecting women and their children in the guise of religion and faith.

United with the Ministry of Justice; the Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency representing Parliament; the Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Rights Commission; the Commission for Gender Equality; the Soul City Institute; Academics; Musicians; Feminists and Gender Activists from across the country, we have called this media conference to respond urgently to social perversions that affect women the most.

As the Ministry responsible for women, we remain vigilant against the scourge of violence that affects South African women daily. We will stop at nothing to hold the responsible government departments tasked with ensuring dignity to victims of crime. We would like to question the Department of Correctional Services about the preferential treatment that Mr Omotoso is allegedly receiving in their facilities. We are also aware of the many cases of intimidation against women who have spoken up against Timothy Omotoso. We note with concern the social media comments going around. We wish to warn all those who intimidate these women that they are accomplices in the crime of abuse that Omotoso is accused of.

The issue of dealing with femicide is also urgent. We know that in South Africa the rate of femicide is four-times higher than the global average. We need to create a supportive environment that enables young women to identify and leave abusive relationships.

We will therefore be embarking on a process of planning towards public hearings with various stakeholders against Gender-Based Violence and all Forms of Abuses in the Guise of religion and faith.

Our aim is to break the silencing hold that these institutions have over women. We are aware that few women report cases of abuse and even fewer reach the criminal justice system. Even in the system, women are often re-victimised. These hearings will offer women a platform to speak about their experiences. They will also shed the veil of shame that comes with being abused. And finally heal the pain they have been carrying alone.

The hearings will be national, and will invite women to speak out against their experiences of abuses in the guise of religion and faith. These abuses can be in churches, in synagogues, in mosques, on Mountains, under the sea and in heaven above.

Concurrent to the hearings, we will be revisiting the Sexual Offences Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Criminal Procedures Act, with the view to strengthen our laws to protect women. Cross Examination should not be a platform used by legal practitioners to enforce secondary trauma on witnesses. We believe the advocate's conduct was an overreach and we will be consulting the Bar Council of Advocates to address this. The law must be protective of victims and survivors in its processes towards justice. Any acts that are found to cause secondary trauma to victims of crime should be addressed immediately by all affected stakeholders, including the Law Society of South Africa as Lawyers and Prosecutors are required to observe the rules of courts in executing their duties.

We will also be meeting with the Departments of Home Affairs and International Relations to deliberate on the theme of migration as it pertains to this case in particular, but also on the many unregulated religious institutions headed by foreign nationals.

Source: Government of South Africa