The South African government, the Department of Justice and the NPA are determined to prove that Shrien Dewani will receive a fair trial and treatment when he touches down in this country this morning. After former police chief Bheki Cele’s unfortunate reference in 2012 to Dewani as “a monkey”, it was clear at yesterday’s technical briefing at the Cape High court that officials were playing it by the book. By MARIANNE THAMM.
Advocate Paul Hoffman SC, director of the non-profit Institute for Accountability in South Africa, stuck out like a sore thumb on Monday morning, as he sat wedged between journalists gathered in a stuffy Court 4 of the Cape High Court for the Department of Justice “technical briefing” on the Shrien Dewani murder trial.
It was Hoffman who, in December 2010, lodged a complaint with the Public Protector after former National Commissioner, Bheki Cele, had shot his mouth off to journalists saying, “A monkey came all the way from London to have his wife murdered here. Shrien thought we South Africans were stupid when he came all the way to kill his wife in our country. He lied to himself.”
In his complaint to the Public Protector, Hoffman maintained that Cele’s attitude and statement was not only improper, but also unlawful, and could have a negative impact on Dewani’s extradition proceedings at the time.
Dewani’s supporters immediately flagged the South African national police commissioner’s comments as proof that the murder suspect was unlikely to receive proper justice in South Africa.
Because of Hoffman’s complaint to the Public Protector, Cele later apologised for his “choice of words”. Hoffman has been a consistent and vocal critic of the South African judicial system, writing several columns questioning its capacity. Hoffman also featured in the hour-long BBI1 Panorama investigation into Anni Dewani’s murder, and which concluded that South African Police had, according to experts in that country, failed to piece together a watertight case.
Be that as it may, Mthunzi Mhaga, Spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, adopted an open and frank demeanor as he addressed some 60 local and foreign journalists who packed the court.
While the briefing was inexplicably delayed for about two hours, journalists were given easy access to the courtroom and DOJ and NPA officials who attended.
Mhaga was at pains to point out that Dewani’s constitutional rights, “including the right to be presumed innocent” would be respected and protected and that no cameras would be allowed in the court today when Dewani walks up the stairs to Court 1 from the “hole” below.
“When the accused and the judge [Judge President of the Western Cape Division, John Hlope] enter the court tomorrow, no photographs may be taken,” Mhaga said to groans of disapproval from cameramen and photographers eager to snap the first shot of Dewani in the dock.
“You can film in the court before Mr Dewani arrives, you can do your cutaways,” Mhaga tried to reassure them.
However, Mhaga added that the media is free to apply for permission to film the proceedings and take photographs and at least one morning daily, Die Burger, has already done so.
After more than three years Shrien Dewani is finally expected to land in Cape Town from Heathrow this morning. He will be transported immediately, accompanied by a doctor, a nurse and members of the Hawks, to the Cape High Court where he will be processed in the cells below before being led to Court 1 around 11.30am. Officials do not expect any delays.
Dewani will face three charges, namely conspiracy to murder, murder and defeating the ends of justice. He is not expected to plead. Asked whether Dewani is likely to apply for bail, Mhaga replied, “In South Africa he will enjoy all rights, including the right to apply for bail”.
Dewani’s legal team is attorney Taswell Papier and advocate Francois van Zyl SC, of the leading law firm Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs. Papier is a director at ENS and practices as an attorney in ENS’s corporate commercial department.
Van Zyl is a former State advocate and director of public prosecutions and was part of the team defending Schabir Shaik.
Earlier on Monday, Van Zyl and Papier were seen leaving the court with Director of Public Prosecutions in the Western Cape, Rodney de Kock and deputy director of prosecutions, Adrian Mopp, who was the prosecutor in the trial of one of the hired killers, Xolile Mngeni.
A large contingent of international and local media is expected to scrum outside the Cape High Court as Dewani is driven directly to the court buildings in central Cape Town from the airport.
Advocate Hoffman quickly slipped out of the court at the end of the briefing. DM
Photo: A file photograph showing Shrien Dewani arriving at Belmarsh magistrates court in London 24 February 2011. EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA
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