When Shrien Dewani disembarks at Cape Town International airport from Flight BA0059 around 9am on Tuesday to face charges that he orchestrated the murder of his young wife, Anni, in November 2010, he won’t be the only person in the dock. As is currently the case with the Oscar Pistorius trial in Pretoria, South Africa, our policing and criminal justice system as well as our reputation as one of the most violent countries in the world will once again be placed under intense international scrutiny. As a first step, at a special technical briefing to take place in the Cape High Court on Monday morning, the state is expected to outline guidelines for the case. By MARIANNE THAMM.
In September 2013, the BBC1 flagship current affairs programme, Panorama, watched by millions of viewers, broadcast the hour-long report, “The Honeymoon Murder: Who Killed Anni?” Veteran reporter and one-time BBC correspondent in South Africa, Jeremy Vine, travelled to the country and undertook an in-depth investigation into the bizarre circumstances that led to the tragic hijacking and murder of the 28-year-old Anni sometime after 10pm on Saturday, November 13, 2010.
At the time, the sensational hijacking and murder of a young woman while on honeymoon in sunny South Africa immediately made international headlines, reinforcing widely held perceptions of the country as an unsafe and violent destination.
The only piece of evidence that is not in dispute at this point is that Anni, wearing an elegant, black cocktail dress, was shot in the neck – the bullet severing her spinal cord and rupturing several major blood vessels – and was left slumped in the back seat of a silver Volkswagen Sharan, abandoned opposite a then-vacant plot of land in Sinqolanthi Street, Ilitha Park, Khayelitsha, where she is believed to have bled to death.
The apparently hijacked vehicle had belonged to a local private shuttle operator, Zola Tongo, 25, a father of five with no previous criminal record, who had been asked by Shrien Dewani to drive the honeymoon couple around during their stay in Cape Town.
By his account, Tongo had coincidentally been standing in the Cape Town International Airport arrivals terminal chatting to another driver when Dewani approached him on November 12 and had asked where he could hire a taxi. Dewani later said he had opted to use Tongo’s services because the driver could speak English and his vehicle had “seemed secure”.
And so it was that the first two pieces in what remains a convoluted and disturbing puzzle fell into place. More fragments will hopefully be added when Shrien Dewani, 33, faces charges for conspiring to murder his wife in the Cape High Court later this year.
In 2012, Vine and his Panorama crew flew to South Africa after managing to secure “leaked” copies of the state’s case (possibly from extradition hearings in London) including forensic evidence, crime scene photographs, witness statements, phone records as well as police video confessions by the two assassins, Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 27 at the time and Xolile Mngeni, 25. (Qwabe, after a plea bargain with the state, was sentenced in August 2012 to 25 years on charges of murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances, kidnapping and the illegal possession of a firearm. Mgeni, who the court found had shot Anni, was sentenced in December 2012 to life in prison for the murder and a further 15 years for robbery with aggravating circumstances and to five years for possession of unlicensed firearm and ammunition, to run concurrently with his life term).
But Vine and the Panorama crew didn’t only rely on this “leaked” version of the Dewani docket for their programme.
The hijacking and killing of Anni Dewani is a crime that took place in a modern era of 24-hour public camera surveillance and the team managed to secure hours of remarkable, previously unreleased CCTV camera footage. Recordings not only track the arrival of the couple with Tongo at the five-star Cape Grace Hotel in the Waterfront, but almost all of their movements inside the hotel – at the reception area, the lobby, the corridors, the hotel bar and the parking area outside – as well as their entering of the Surfside restaurant in the Strand and their departure about half an hour before Anni was murdered.
The only missing footage or “black spot”, which is telling in itself, is of what really happened at the intersection of NY112 and NY108 in Gugulethu, when the couple first drove through earlier in the evening on a township “sightseeing tour” and then once again later when they were “hijacked” at the exact location, ostensibly en route back to the Cape Grace Hotel.
Most remarkably, the Panorama team secured footage of the “middle man”, Monde Mbolombo, a receptionist at the Protea Hotel Colosseum in Century City, in the days leading up to the murder, as he made physical contact with Tongo, as well as phone calls received from the driver on the night of the killing.
Mbolombo, who procured the two shooters, has received immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony implicating Tongo and the shooters. Tongo pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years in December 2010, a month after Anni’s murder. He is expected to be called as a witness for the prosecution in Shrien Dewani’s murder trial.
The Panorama investigation pivots on the opinion of several respected UK forensic experts who are often called to testify at high profile cases in that country and who were asked to review the South African docket. Their conclusion is universally damning for the South African Police Service and possibly the state’s case as it was presented to them.
Vine ends “The Honeymoon Murder: Who Killed Anni?” with the question, “Can justice be done or has it already been undone by incompetence, flawed evidence and lies?”
Photo: The shoes Anni Dewani wore on the night of her murder.
Experts are quoted as saying that “[t]he policing system [in South Africa] is content to use confessions” and that statements from Tongo, Qwabe, Mngeni and Mbolombo were not adequately verified for inconsistencies.
Anni’s parents, Nilam and Vinod Hindocha, did not agree to participate in the Panorama investigation and have condemned the programme as a “trial by media”.
It seems unlikely that the programme investigators managed to obtain the entire state’s case as it will proceed in the Cape High Court and there is bound to be evidence that has not yet come to public light.
Dewani will appear briefly on Tuesday after he has been escorted from the airport to the court before being taken to the Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital’s maximum-security forensic unit, where he will remain for the duration of the case. It is unlikely that he will apply for bail, although this possibility has not been entirely ruled out.
Dewani will be charged with conspiring with the driver and the killers to fake a hijacking during which his wife would be killed. On the night of the killing, Tongo and Dewani were dumped at different locations not far from each other, before the gunmen sped off alone with Anni.
Dewani had handed over R4,000 in cash as well as items of jewellery and their cell phones before he was put out of the car.
After a frantic search, Anni was found the following morning slumped in the back seat of Tongo’s vehicle with a bullet wound in her left hand and neck.
Shrien Dewani will be represented in South Africa by a team of expert criminal lawyers from Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs.
The state’s case will in all likelihood hinge on phone records and text messages not only between Tongo and Dewani, who communicated at least 12 times in the 24 hours before Anni’s death, but also from Anni to her cousin Sneha Hindocha, as well as her sister Ami Denborg in the days and months leading up to the murder.
These texts include two sent to Sneha in September five weeks before her wedding in which Anni writes: “I don’t want to marry him … I’m going to be unhappy for the rest of my life … one cannot even hug him … we have nothing in common.”
A month before the ceremony she texted “hate him”, and in a text sent from the private Chitwa Chitwa game lodge in Sabie Sands, four days before the couple left for Cape Town, she wrote, “I am really trying. He’s a nice guy in all the ways but I don’t feel happy at all.”
These and other texts are certain to paint a picture of a young but troubled relationship, but the defence will in all likelihood dispute this, using video footage of the couple in the bar of the Cape Grace Hotel, lovingly kissing and holding hands shortly before their departure for the Strand and the fateful encounter with the gunmen.
Dewani will be asked to explain the exact nature, purpose and timing of his various texts and phone calls to Tongo on the night of the murder. These might prove, in the end, evidence enough to implicate him in his wife’s murder.
But there are many unresolved issues, unanswered questions and loose ends in the case, the most obvious being Shrien Dewani’s motive for ordering the killing of his young bride.
The most compelling evidence for a possible motive emerged when a German sex worker, Leopold Leisser, who specialises in S&M and is known as “The German Master”, told British police in 2011 that he had had sessions with Dewani, whom he had met through the website “Gaydar.”
Leisser told investigators that Dewani had confessed that he was desperate to find “a way out” of the marriage and that he would be “disowned” by his family if they learned he was a homosexual. Dewani, Leisser claims, had used his services three times, once in September 2009 and then again in February and April 2010. Leisser has handed over evidence to police, which includes a form Dewani had filled out on his first meeting stating his sexual preferences. CCTV footage from the Presidential Kensington Hotel in West London where Dewani allegedly met Leisser is also in the possession of the police.
But the question here is whether the “homosexual defence” is a strong enough motive for Dewani to have cold-bloodedly arranged for the murder of his wife while on holiday in a foreign country.
It is not yet clear whether Leisser will be called as a witness for the prosecution in South Africa.
Where is the money?
Zola Tongo’s testimony is that Shrien Dewani offered him R15,000 to have “a client taken off the scene”. Dewani had changed money at a bureau de change at the airport as well as on the black market at a Golden Touch Jewellers store in central Cape Town.
R15,000 was the amount Tongo said had been agreed on with Dewani during a short discussion between the two of them shortly after arriving at the Cape Grace Hotel.
Dewani had exchanged around R21,500 in the days before the murder. According to Tongo, R10,000 was placed in an envelope and stuffed in a pouch behind the front seat in the Sharan for the killers to retrieve after the murder. This money has never been traced.
Dewani’s defence team will claim that he wanted the cash to pay for a surprise helicopter trip.
In his confession, Mngeni told police that the only money he and Qwabe shared was the R4,000 taken from Dewani before he was pushed out of the vehicle.
Two days after Anni’s murder, Zola Tongo met Shrien Dewani at the Cape Grace, where he gave him an envelope with R1,000 in a white plastic bag. Dewani handed over the bag to Tongo in the hotel’s Internet room, which has no CCTV coverage, but cameras caught Tongo leaving the room with the money stashed under his shirt. He then went to the men’s toilet and later emerged carrying the bag in his hand before exiting the hotel.
What does seem remarkable is that Dewani, a man whose wife had just been brutally murdered, would have the presence of mind in what must have been the depths of overwhelming grief, to arrange to pay Tongo, in person, his “outstanding” fee two days after the murder.
It seems equally disturbing that Tongo, who had met and driven this beautiful young woman around for two days, would insist on receiving his full payment after such a tragic event in which he was involved.
Hiring the killers
Was it that easy for Shrien Dewani to locate, within hours of arriving in South Africa, two hitmen who would be willing to kill his wife?
It is this callous aspect of the murder that is so disturbing and that has placed South Africa’s high crime rate and “morality” under the spotlight.
Tongo’s statement is that within less than three-quarters of an hour after first meeting Dewani at Cape Town International Airport, the new bridegroom spoke to him about the hit while his wife was checking into the Cape Grace Hotel.
While Tongo says he told Dewani he personally did not “associate with such things” he did, as chance would have it, know someone who did. Within minutes Tongo called Mbolombo at the Protea Hotel Colosseum and then arrived there shortly afterwards. The two men then retired to a back office (and were caught on CCTV camera) where Mbolombo simply called Qwabe, who was apparently up for the job and wanted R5,000. Mbolombo too says he wants a fee of R5,000 for his trouble.
Why did South African detectives allow Shrien Dewani to leave South Africa so soon after the murder?
Why did South African detectives not question Dewani in the UK?
Why did the gunmen allow Dewani and Tongo to escape unscathed when they would have been key witnesses?
Why did Dewani need over R20,000 cash in such a short period of time? And if he had been planning a helicopter trip, why do no such records exist?
Who paid for terminally-ill hit man Mngeni’s legal defence?
There are more questions, and these are bound to be asked during the trial.
Anni’s parents and family are expected to arrive in South Africa when the trial gets underway later in the year. It has been a torturous three-and-a-half years for the family, who have consistently asked Shrien to face the charges in South Africa, which he will now do.
On Tuesday, for the second time in his life, Anni’s accused husband, accompanied by Hawks detectives, is expected to touch down at Cape Town International Airport at 9am. It is known that journalists from a major British tabloid have booked on the same flight and are bunkering in for the long run.
This journey, for Dewani, will now decide his fate.
Is Shrien Dewani a cold-hearted killer or the victim of an elaborate set-up by ruthless, criminal South Africans?
Was Anni Dewani yet another woman killed by an intimate partner or was she just another crime statistic in a country viewed to be one of the most violent in the world?
The moment has come for the court to decide.
The only traces of Anni that remain are the happy photographs of her taken before her murder. The rest – her shoes, her jewellery, her dress – are all bagged and tagged in South African Police Service forensic plastic evidence files. DM
Photo: Businessman Shrien Dewani (C) and his father Prakash Dewani arrive to attend his bail hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in London February 24, 2011. Shrien Dewani is accused by South Africa of hiring a hitman to murder his 28-year-old wife Anni, a former model and Swedish national, who was shot dead last year. (REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)
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