At least two women have made startling allegations of rape against the religious leader of the Rivers of Living Waters Ministries during hearings into allegations of sexual abuse at the church in Evaton, south of Johannesburg.
The CRL Rights Commission heard chilling testimony on Tuesday from two women who accused Archbishop Stephen Zondo of rape dating back to decades. One of the victims accused Zondo of repeatedly raping her when she was only seven years old.
The victim, who cannot be named, said the first time she was raped allegedly by Zondo, he was around 18 years old and he was a popular photographer and wedding videographer. He was not yet a pastor.
“I was playing with my friends and he called me into the house to wash his socks. He locked the door and I went to the bathroom to look for the socks. There was no socks to wash. He called me into the room and he was dressed in his underwear and a white vest,” she said.
Another woman claimed she was raped, threatened with death and offered R75 000 compensation which she has still not received.
Zondo would not be drawn into commenting on the allegations Tuesday. “Go talk to the people who are talking badly about me,” he said before hanging up.
He later responded to text messages asking for comment on the allegations, saying: “Ask professor David Mosoma he’s got all the answers.”
The commission said Zondo had been notified about the hearings and would be given an opportunity to appear before it to respond to them at a later stage.
In tears, the woman who said she was raped at age 7 told the commission that she screamed and told him that he was hurting her but he told her to stop screaming. “I will never forget that day. I can still smell that room,” she said.
She said after the first rape she was told to go back outside to play and never tell anyone what was done to her. “He gave me a R1 and sweets to give to the other children. But I couldn’t play, I was in pain,” she said.
She said she has been traumatised by the incident for her whole life. “I was very smart and a happy child but things changed. I became slow in school. I couldn’t focus and do what I used to do like to write the simplest words.”
She said she started dressing like a boy because she wanted to protect herself from further harm. “I was so stressed that by 13 years old I was put on medication,” she said.
According to the commission’s chairperson Prof David Mosoma, there are five cases of rape that have been opened against Zondo. Four were opened at the Evaton police station and one in Booysens.
The commission is holding hearings into allegations of sexual abuse, among other things, at the church in Evaton in the Vaal.
The first witness to give his testimony on crimes and human rights violations allegedly committed by Zondo said the church was run like a cult.
Solly Poopedi, who was a staunch supporter of Zondo, said he left the church at the beginning of 2019 after hearing about and witnessing financial abuse and money laundering. “We realised over time we are not in a church. We are in a cult,” he said.
Poopedi, who was in the church for five years, said he has had many women tell him that they had been raped. “People are afraid to open cases because nothing seems to happen with the cases,” he said.
Commissioner Richard Botha asked Poopedi how he can prove that some women were not willingly having affairs with Zondo. Poopedi said Zondo “is using his power to solicit sex”.
Poopedi made further allegations about financial abuse whereby Zondo demands large amounts of money from his congregants.
“He once asked us for money and we raised R45,000 in one day. That’s nothing because we have even raised R3.5-million for him in one night. The only family that prospers is his. There are people who are bankrupt because of him,” he said.
The hearings continue.