While the highly ritualised performance of the courtroom with its dress code, rules and designated seating for each role player might serve to create a sense of order and containment, the chaos and lies that surround the murder of Anni Dewani swirl palpably below this regimented surface. On Monday, Shrien Dewani’s defence team suggested a fifth conspirator exists and that one of the gunmen had tried to rape Anni before accidentally shooting her. By MARIANNE THAMM.
In a certain light and mood Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso, flanked by her two assessors, looks like an inscrutable bird of prey perched on the elevated judges bench. Judges are instrumental in setting the tone in a courtroom. The embattled Judge President of the Western Cape Justice, John Hlope, who presided over Dewani’s pre-trial hearings earlier this year, is no friend of the media.
After sweeping into court in his red robe he glowered immediately at the press contingent ordering emphatically that no photographs be taken “as long as I am sitting in this chair”. Later, after a very short sitting to determine a trial date, Hlope took a moment to joke with State Prosecutor Rodney De Kock, quipping, “Well, that was a short walk to freedom” – referring, no doubt, to his own swift release from the courtroom.
Traverso’s demeanor is entirely different. There have been no gestures or references to herself, her presence or her authority in the court. It is a given. There have been no exchanges or friendly quips between the judge and the legal teams. Judge Traverso’s questions, when she has asked them, have been direct and economical. Yesterday she castigated deputy director of public prosecutions, Adrian Mopp, for needing to hold over the testimony of two witnesses, one until after lunch and another until today. Traverso is clearly determined not to waste any time or money with any unforeseen delays in the hearing.
The media scrum that played itself out outside the Cape High Court at the start of Dewani’s murder trial last week has dissipated, with most of the international contingent now feeding at another watering hole – the Oscar Pistorius judgment in Pretoria. So it was a mostly local pack of journalists and photographers present at the start of week two.
Dewani has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. His defence team will set out to prove that the newlyweds were victims of a plan concocted by Zola Tongo (the driver Shrien Dewani had encountered at Cape Town International Airport as the couple arrived on 12 November 2010) and Monde Mlambo, a hotel receptionist who procured the killers, Xolile Mngeni, and tour guide, Mziwamdoda Qwabe.
In 2012 Mngeni, who was 25 at the time of the murder, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Qwabe was sentenced to 25 years while Tongo is currently serving 18 years.
Both the families filed into the court shortly before 10am with the Hindochas sitting to the left while the Dewanis sat to Shrien’s right. They are not able to view each other as the wooden bulk of the dock squats between them.
The day kicked off with the cross-examination of Qwabe with Dewani’s advocate, Francois van Zyl, suggesting that it was Qwabe and not Mngeni who had actually fired the shot that had killed Anni.
“You should have received a life sentence and not 25 years,” Van Zyl charged.
It was Qwabe, said Van Zyl, who had been standing at the door of the car wearing a pair of yellow household gloves and who had pulled the trigger, and it was Qwabe who had attempted to pull Anni out of the vehicle while she was still alive. The shot went off, it was suggested, as Anni struggled with her assailant. The pathologist who had examined Anni’s body had found that bruises on her lower left leg had been caused while she had still been alive and which had suggested “[s]he was dragged by someone’s right hand”.
“Were you perhaps intending to rape her?” asked Van Zyl.
Qwabe denied that this is what had taken place although his recollection of most of the events that took place that night was vague or evasive throughout the morning.
Qwabe later admitted that the primary reason he had agreed to testify in Dewani’s trial was so that his sentence might be reduced or, alternatively, that his parole period might be shortened to half and not two-thirds of the sentence.
“This is causing me and my family a lot of stress,” Qwabe explained.
In getting Qwabe to admit this, Van Zyl put paid to any notion that the witness was there for any altruistic reasons or to help in the search for the elusive truth in this baffling case.
The court heard that the glove that Qwabe had worn that night had tested positive for primary gunpowder residue and one of his prints had been lifted from the right rear door.
Qwabe could not explain to the court how this had come to be.
At one point an investigating officer, Captain Kenneth Speed, sitting in front of Mopp and wearing a pair of blue latex gloves, carefully extricated the yellow washing-up glove from an evidence bag. Earlier Speed had passed sets of blue gloves to Mopp, Van Zyl and Qwabe in preparation for when they would handle the evidence. Speed then carried the glove, perched on a plastic bag, over to Van Zyl as if it were a fragile egg, and was visibly horrified when Van Zyl simply snatched it up, bare-handed, and proceeded to pick open the now perished rubber to find the section between the thumb and forefinger that had been cut out and tested for gunpowder.
Van Zyl suggested to Qwabe – based on a conversation recorded on CCTV at the Protea Hotel Colosseum in Century City where the fixer Monde Mlambo worked – that there had actually been five conspirators.
At 18.42 on Saturday, 13 November 2010, the night of the hijacking, Mlambo was recorded as saying: “There [are] five of us, remember.”
Van Zyl asked Qwabe who this fifth conspirator might have been and whether the men were en route to his house in Khayelitsha, where they had planned to hold Anni hostage. He suggested that Dewani had been allowed out of the car earlier during the hijacking so that he could pay the ransom.
Earlier Dewani wept as Van Zyl attempted to get Qwabe to recreate the initial hijacking in Gugulethu, recounting how Dewani had offered his wife’s ring to the hijackers. Tears rolled down Dewani’s cheeks as he quietly wiped them away.
Van Zyl suggested that judging from the number of calls between Qwabe and Mlambo on the day of the murder, Mlambo had played a far more significant role than merely hooking up Tongo with the killers.
“If he had been only the link, can you explain the number of calls between the two of you?” quizzed Van Zyl.
Qwabe denied that there had been a fifth conspirator or that Mlambo had played a more significant role. He also spent much of the morning in the dock denying Van Zyl’s charges as well as claiming that he didn’t remember many of the significant details that were put to him and that pointed to the suggestion that he had been the killer.
Qwabe’s testimony this week sketched a highly disorganised hijacking where no set plans had been discussed, including where Anni was to be killed or where the men had agreed to dispose of the body or the vehicle.
It was for this reason that Van Zyl suggested that the men had intended to rob the couple “because they clearly had money” and to hold Anni hostage. Van Zyl also suggested that Qwabe and Mngeni lived close to each other in Khayletisha and that Mlambo too lived close by. He posited that the men had initially intended to drive into the area where they lived and knew where they were heading. It was perhaps because of Anni’s screams that they had pulled over and had shot her before abandoning the VW Sharan in Sinqolanthi Street, Ilitha Park, Khayelitsha.
It was Mopp, however, who dealt the coup de grace of the day, asking Qwabe: “What was the point of the crime?”
“To kill the woman,” Qwabe replied casually.
“And was that achieved?”
“Yes,” Qwabe stated, before being asked to stand down.
After lunch, Simon Johnson, now digital manager with Thomas Cooke, gave evidence. Johnson had previously worked for Gaydar, “a gay website for adults over 18”, which he described as a “sexually charged environment” where users could generate profiles, send and receive email, post pictures as well as enter private chatrooms.
Dewani had signed up as a member of Gaydar in 2004 under the username “Asiansubguy”.
Traverso appeared not to understand the username and asked Mopp to repeat it twice.
The court heard from Johnson that Dewani’s profile had been removed on 21 November and it was later determined that this was done by Dewani’s sister, Preyal, “because the media was looking for anything on the accused” according to Van Zyl.
In registering for the site, said Johnson, Dewani had ticked boxes that indicated he was “single” and “gay”, contradicting Dewani’s disclosure last week that he is bisexual.
Seasoned journalists who have been covering the murder and the trial since 2010 gathered over lunch discussing the many baffling twists and turns and the many perplexing elements of this murder and trial.
It is a case still riddled with gaps, questions and doubts.
Most unfathomable to the ordinary person is that a tourist arriving in South Africa could, after a short 15-minute car journey from the airport, open a discussion with a total stranger about a planned assassination. Tongo was self-employed driver who earned a reasonably good salary from ferrying tourists around the region.
Even more troubling is that Tongo, after the alleged request, immediately contacted a middleman who just happened to have two professional hit men on speed dial.
It appears as if the entire hijacking and murder was extremely badly planned and executed and took place in less than 24 hours.
Other questions are why, if they were planning to rob and hijack the couple, they would have let Shrien Dewani go? Also, why would a man who was described by his new wife as a “control freak” and a “Hitler” when it came to their wedding arrangements, leave so much to chance orchestrating something as dastardly as her death?
Why would the taxi driver be party to a murder that would take place in his car, resulting in his only means of an income being impounded by police? Why did Dewani exchange so much cash once inside the country? What was in the envelope that Dewani surreptitiously handed to Tongo at the hotel the day after the murder?
And then there is the now added context of Shrien Dewani’s double life as a gay man, at least according to the forms he filled in when he joined Gaydar. Would this provide enough of a motive for him to “get rid” of Anni, as she was now an obstacle in his life? Did Anni Dewani find out that Shrien was not who he claimed to be?
This week the state will call more witnesses, from a list that has not been made public, who will hopefully edge us all closer to a truth, but probably not the truth.
So far, there is only one truth that is not in dispute: Anni Dewani spent the last hours of her life terrified in the back of a car before she was shot and left to die alone opposite a vacant plot of land. DM
Photo: Shrien Dewani arrives to his trial (Shaun Swingler)