“Well, that was a short walk to freedom,” quipped Cape Judge President, John Hlophe (presumably about himself) in the Cape High Court after postponing murder accused Shrien Dewani’s hearing until 20 June. By MARIANNE THAMM.
Shrien Dewani, dressed in the same black suit he had worn for his first brief court appearance in South Africa on 8 April, spent less than half an hour in the dock of the Cape High Court on Monday as both prosecution and defence teams agreed that while he had been “making progress”, the 33-year-old Bristol-born businessman needed more time to recover before court proceedings could resume.
Dewani’s home for the past month has been a single room in Ward 4 of the Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital in Observatory where he has been confined as a voluntary patient for observation by a team of psychiatrists. In court yesterday Dewani appeared as unsettled as he was on his first appearance and continued to twitch and turn his head at any sudden sound or movement. He also appeared to have trouble hearing, leaning forwards and tilting his head while Judge Hlophe informed him that his case had been postponed until next month.
Advocate Francois van Zyl, representing Dewani and assisted by advocate Pieter Botha, earlier told Judge Hlophe, “I am informed that he has been fully co-operative and that his condition has improved. We have been told by treating psychiatrists not to consult with him for longer than 30 minutes at a time.”
“Is that the end of the road, Mr De Kock?” a voluble Judge Hlophe asked the state prosecutor Rodney de Kock.
When De Kock replied in the affirmative, Hlophe retorted, “Well, that was short walk to freedom”.
The Judge President clearly did not mean for Shrien Dewani, who was immediately led back down the cells below the court before being escorted in back to Valkenberg.
Dewani’s family, including his father Prakash, his mother Snila, his brother Preyen, their legal representative Rudi de Wet as well as British High Commission Deputy Head of Communications, Isabel Potgieter occupied the court bench directly in front of Dewani while investigating officers, Captain Paul Hendricks and Kenneth Speed sat with NPA officials opposite the press bench.
Also in court wearing a cerise polo neck and trademark black cap was veteran journalist and photographer Fanie Jason, one of the most connected newsmen in the city and the first local journalist to arrive at the scene of the murder in Sinqolanthi Street, Ilitha Park, Khayelitsha, where Anni Dewani’s lifeless body was found in the back seat of an abandoned silver Volkswagen Sharan on the morning of Sunday, 14 November, 2010.
Photo: Veteran photographer and journalist Fanie Jason, who was the first South African reporter to arrive at the scene of the murder and who continues to seek answers to the murder of Anni Dewani.
Jason, who works mostly for overseas publications, recalls that he was at home in Gugulethu ironing a white suit that morning in preparation for a “BEE party on a yacht in the Waterfront” when he received a call from a “township informant” that the body of a woman had been found.
“At first I thought that I’d ignore it. I get so many tip-offs, but when the source called a second time and said the murdered woman was a tourist, I knew the story would be big,” recalls Jason.
Working with two other veteran reporters, Raymond Joseph and Mike Behr, the trio began to track down anyone who might have known anything about the possible killers.
Police, in the meantime, had swooped on the area in Gugulethu where Dewani and the driver of the Sharan, Zola Tongo, had apparently been dumped by two “hijackers” who had then headed off with Anni in the direction of Khayelitsha.
Police initially arrested several people whom they later released and on 24 November made a breakthrough when Tongo, after being fingered by “middleman”, Monde Mbolombo, a receptionist at the Protea Hotel Colosseum in Century City, made a confession to police and implicated the two “hijackers”, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni. Tongo also implicated Shrien Dewani as the mastermind of the murder.
By then South African police had allowed Dewani, who was initially not a suspect, to return home to England, where he then fought a three-year battle against extradition to South Africa to stand trial.
Tonga was later sentenced to 18 years for his role in the murder, Qwabe to 25 and Mngeni to life, 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.
Jason says an aspect of the Anni Dewani murder that has intrigued him is the role traditional and cultural notions of “manhood” have played in the tragedy.
“We found a relative of Mngeni’s who confirmed that he had accepted the contract to kill Anni because he didn’t have enough money to undergo ritual circumcision that would make him ‘a man’. He was 25 at the time and had grown tired of being insulted by his peers for still being ‘a boy’. And here he was taking the life of a woman in order for him to become a man. It is just tragic,” said Jason.
And then there is the state’s submission that the motive for the ruthless killing is that Dewani is a homosexual and that he needed to find a way “out” of his marriage to Anni.
“They’re saying that being gay for Shrien is totally unacceptable to his family and that he needed to find a way out of the marriage. And if this is the case then it is also about a cultural issue of ‘manhood’,” opines Jason.
Why Dewani would resort to such desperate and ruthless measures when he could have concealed his “secret” life from his wife (as some men do) is one of many puzzling aspects and unanswered questions that surround this murder.
The witness who will attempt to prove the state’s allegation that this was indeed Shrien’s motive for the killing will be Leopold Leisser, a gay S&M escort based in the UK and who came forward and told police that Dewani had booked two sessions with him at a London hotel. Leisser, along with Tongo, are expected be called as state witnesses.
Dewani and his legal team have denied that he is a homosexual and claim he will be able to prove that he was at the hotel at the times logged by Leisser for other business meetings. Dewani has also denied that he orchestrated his wife’s murder and insists the couple were the victims of a vicious crime.
On June 20 all the players will once again gather at a pre-trial hearing to determine various matters including whether Dewani is fit to stand trial and whether the proceedings will be televised live. But the Hindocha family will still have to wait a while longer before they once again sit through the agonising details of Anni’s death or come any closer to the truth of what really happened that dreadful night in November 2010. DM
Main picture: Shrien Dewani at his first court appearance in Cape Town
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.