Life, etc

Live courtroom TV, Season Two: Shrien Dewani

By Marianne Thamm 11 May 2014

After a month of psychiatric observation, British murder accused Shrien Dewani is expected to make his second pre-trial appearance in the Cape High court on Monday. In February this year, Judge Dunstan Mlambo made legal history when he ruled that parts of the Oscar Pistorius trial could be broadcast live on television. Media houses are bound to apply for the same privilege in the Dewani matter. In the meantime, Dewani's iPad and iPhone were confiscated and handed to the investigating officer, Captain Paul Hendrikse. By MARIANNE THAMM.

There is nothing new about the public’s appetite for murder or homicide as entertainment. True crime, literary crime fiction, detective and legal series as well as real and fictional courtroom dramas remain the most popular genres of entertainment and one of the UK and America’s greatest global cultural exports.

For centuries, crime and those who transgress the apparent moral codes that bind a society have held those of us who would never dream of overstepping these taboos, captivated and enthralled.

For the past two months millions of South Africans have been absorbed by the minutiae of the tragedy that took place in the early hours of the morning of 14 February, 2013 in Oscar Pistorius’ home in the Silver Woods Estate in Pretoria when he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, believing her, according to his defence, of being an intruder.

In a Business Day column, before proceedings kicked off in the Pretoria High Court in February, Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University, Anton Harber, predicted that coverage of the Pistorius case would change the ecology of the media.

We will have our first pop-up TV channel, with MultiChoice creating a 24-hour pay channel just for the trial. This will compete with all the local and international live news channels, in a blur of acronyms: eNCA, SABC News, ANN7, CNN, BBC…The nation will be drawn together around our TVs to follow every step of the trial in a way that happens only occasionally for big events.”

On February 25, Judge Dunstan Mlambo made legal history in the Pretoria High court when he ruled that limited televised broadcasts of the Pistorius trial would be allowed, saying this would go a long way towards addressing “misconceptions about the justice system in South Africa”.

In so doing, Judge Mlambo enabled the creation of millions of Pistorius trial addicts who have spent hours puckering the seats of their couches absorbed by every mindboggling twist and turn in the proceedings.

Part of the mass, ongoing appeal of the broadcasts has, of course, been due to the status, profile and celebrity of Pistorius, an internationally lauded Paralympian who has graced the cover of Time magazine.

However, Shrien Dewani is no Oscar Pistorius. Until the brutal murder of his young Swedish wife, Anni, while the couple was on honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010, no one had heard of the Bristol-born chartered accountant turned businessman.

But the murder, or “Honeymoon Horror”, as it was described when first picked up by the Daily Mail, soon made international headlines. Writing in the Daily Maverick at the time, Rebecca Davis noted, “the early reporting on the case played on fears in crime-ridden Africa: the heart of darkness in the ‘ramshackle townships’, ‘no-go areas for tourists’.”

But it soon emerged that this was no “ordinary” South African crime when Zola Tongo, the taxi driver Dewani had contracted to drive the couple around Cape Town, made a startling confession that Dewani had offered him R15,000 to have his wife killed.

Using an intermediary, Monde Mbolombo, a receptionist at the Protea Hotel Colosseum in Century City, Tongo had hired two killers, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni, who “hijacked” Tongo’s vehicle in Gugulethu on the night of 13 November 2010 and later shot Anni.

Tonga was sentenced to 18 years for his role in the murder, Qwabe to 25 and Mngeni to life for the murder of Anni, with a further 15 years for robbery with aggravating circumstances and an additional five years for possession of unlicensed firearm and ammunition, to run concurrently with his life term. Mbolombo was offered immunity from prosecution for turning state witness.

Monday’s proceedings in the Cape High Court will most likely be taken up by the application by several media houses, including eNCA, to be allowed to broadcast the Dewani pre-trial hearing and bail application, if one is made.

There is a considerable amount of international interest in the trial, not only because of the sensational nature of the murder but also due to the charge by Dewani’s relatives during an lengthy extradition hearing that he was unlikely to receive a fair hearing in South Africa.

Theirs is a claim backed by Advocate Paul Hoffman, a former High Court judge and head of the Institute for Accountability, who reportedly told the British media “the Dewani family has every reason to be very concerned. The case has certainly been handled unusually and that plea bargain was rushed through the South African courts with unseemly haste.”

Department of Justice officials have gone out of their way to prove that Dewani will receive a fair trial in this country and this might serve to sway any decision made with regard to allowing the proceedings to be fully or partially televised. It appears as if the ruling in the Pistorius case has set a precedent.

Patrick Conroy, Head of News at eNCA and eNews Prime Time, while he confirmed to the BBC that the station had applied to cover pre-trial hearings and bail applications, would not elaborate on whether an application would be made to televise the full trial. A request for full broadcast would require a separate application, which is by no means guaranteed.

There are many factors to consider and the Dewani application is complex and differs greatly from Pistorius,” Conroy told the Daily Maverick.

Dewani has been charged with five counts: contravening section 18(2)(a) of the Riotous Assembly Act, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, murder and obstructing the administration of justice.

He is represented by Advocate Francois van Zyl (who represented Schabir Shaik in his fraud and corruption case in the Durban High Court) while the prosecution team includes Rodney de Kock, Adrian Mopp and Sharin Riley.

Dewani is being kept in a single ward that is guarded round the clock by two policemen and a hospital security guard. He is also being kept separate from other patients and has meals that have been specially prepared for him.

According to a reliable source, in a surprise move last week, police guarding Dewani at Valkenberg confiscated his iPad and iPhone and handed them to investigating officer Captain Paul Hendrikse, who has sent both devices for forensic analysis to determine whether he has been communicating with anyone linked to the murder case. Any attempt at doing so would be in contravention of the conditions of his extradition agreement. Dewani has, in the meantime, been supplied with a police-issue laptop that does not have wi-fi connectivity.

The incident could not be confirmed, but has been recorded in the incident book at a local police station, as well as the ward log on Ward 4.

At his last appearance on 8 April, the 33-year-old businessman, who had been flown in on a private jet from his home town that morning, appeared bewildered and hyper vigilant in the dock, flinching at the slightest move or sound in the courtroom.

Tomorrow’s pre-trail proceedings are not expected to be lengthy and the trial will most likely be postponed to a later date. Meanwhile, Leopold Leisser, the “German Meister”, an S&M escort, is reportedly one of the state’s key witnesses and will be called in an attempt to prove the only apparent motive for the killing: that Shrien Dewani is gay and had felt “trapped” by his marriage to Anni.

A large contingent of journalists from across the globe are once again expected to scramble for the minimal space inside the High Court, and only those with special accreditation (like the Daily Maverick, of course) will be allowed inside the courtroom. DM

Photo: Shrien Dewani arrives at Belmarsh magistrates court in London 24 February 2011. EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA.



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