Analysis: Dewani ruling not much of a vindication for SA prison system

By Sipho Hlongwane 10 August 2011

Barring an appeal or a decision by the British home secretary, Shrien Dewani will be returned to South Africa to face trial for the murder of his wife, Anni, in Cape Town last year. A British judge dismissed concerns about South Africa’s prisons and medical facilities raised by Dewani’s lawyers. But not quite for the reasons you might think. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

Bristol businessman Shrien Dewani’s British defence counsel, Clare Montgomery, did her best to convince district Judge Howard Riddle during the two-week-long hearing in London that her client would have his human rights impinged upon if he was extradited to South Africa to face charges for his alleged part in the death of his wife on their honeymoon in Cape Town last year.

Montgomery argued the South African authorities had done nothing to discourage the idea that there may have been a “disgraceful” sexual motive in the case, and had in fact smeared Dewani’s name repeatedly.

“The vilification has been encouraged by the approach to the case by the South African authorities,” Montgomery said. “People are still calling Mr Dewani a monkey months after that statement was made and it was said to denigrate him. The South African authorities have clearly done this deliberately.” She was referring to comments made by police commissioner Bheki Cele, who had said in the aftermath of Anni Dewani’s murder that, “A monkey came all the way from London to have his wife murdered here”.

She also argued that the South African prisons were in a state of fundamental meltdown, and that Dewani would be the target of gang and sexual violence because of his good looks. Also, she said Dewani was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, psychiatric conditions that would render his extradition “inhumane”.

Her arguments failed to move the judge. Judge Riddle said Dewani would not be returning to South Africa for a comfortable holiday and would face “undoubted hardship”, but had to go anyway. “However, when all relevant factors are considered, the risk of hardship falls short of oppression,” said Riddle. “The public interest in extradition and trial outweighs the competing hardship.”

The judge referred the case to home secretary Theresa May for approval of extradition. So Dewani won’t quite be put on the next plane to Cape Town. It’s possible he may yet not be extradited, should May find some diplomatic reason (now that the legal ones have all been knocked over) why Dewani shouldn’t be returned to South Africa.

Arguing for the South African law enforcement authorities before the Belmarsh magistrate’s court, Hugo Keith put the case as the national prosecuting authority saw it. Dewani, he argued, had hatched a plot to have his wife killed. The couple arrived in Cape Town on 12 November last year, where they were taken to a hotel by their driver and tour guide, Zola Tongo. Dewani then offered Tongo R15,000 to have his wife killed, which Tongo accepted. Tongo then suggested to Dewani that it would be better if he drove the two to Gugulethu where they would stage a hijacking so as to erase suspicion. This was carried out on 13 November. Anni was found with a single gunshot to her neck the next day. The police quickly apprehended two suspects, and Tongo handed himself over later.

Keith told the court he had a witness who had been told by Dewani that his family would disown him if he broke off his engagement with Anni. This had apparently happened some seven months before the Cape Town honeymoon.

While this could be seen as a vindication of the state of South Africa’s correctional services, a cursory read between the lines in the heads of argument and judgment show it actually is not. Both sides accepted that Dewani is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and would need medical attention while in a South African prison. The expert witnesses called by the defendant’s counsel said the prison’s here are in such a state of disrepair that, not only would Dewani very likely get attacked, he would also not receive the medical attention he needed.

Counsel for South Africa’s authorities assured Judge Riddle that Dewani would be kept and tended to separately. He didn’t attempt to argue that there was any untruth in the allegations about the parlous [prison condition in South African jails. He did, however, stress Dewani would receive “preferential treatment”. 

This is precisely how not to run a fair and humane law enforcement system. Dewani’s lawyer was correct in one aspect: Since last November, Dewani has received disconcertingly special attention from General Bheki Cele, to the extent that he personally chaired a press conference that updated the media on the Dewani investigation. It is almost as if Dewani has stung the pride of a nation, and Cele is doing his best to make him pay for that in a most unfortunate manner.

One wonders how non-foreign and non-wealthy prisoners feel about all this.

There’s still a chance for the authorities to vindicate themselves: They have already successfully apprehended the two suspects who shot Anni, and Tongo is already serving an 18-year sentence for murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and perverting the course of justice. Hopefully the authorities, especially the general, will do the right thing and take a step back to allow the course of justice to flow naturally. DM

Read more:

  • Shrien Dewani can be extradited to South Africa, judge rules in The Guardian;
  • Honeymoon murder: Shrien Dewani will be extradited to South Africa to stand trial in The Telegraph.

Photo: Businessman Shrien Dewani (REAR) is led to a prison van by a warder at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London December 8, 2010. REUTERS/Andrew Winning.


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