Murder accused Shrien Dewani planned his wife’s funeral almost as meticulously as he had the wedding, setting out in a spreadsheet a list of songs, where everyone would sit or stand and even who was allowed to accompany the body. Anni’s cousin and confidante, Sneha Mashru, also told the court yesterday that Dewani had manhandled Anni’s body in the funeral parlour, trying to force gold bangles onto her lifeless wrist. By MARIANNE THAMM.
Universal notions around marriage and who a woman “belongs to” afterwards were highlighted in the Cape High Court on Monday, where Shrien Dewani is facing charges of ordering the murder of his wife Anni while on honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010.
Week three kicked off just after 10am, with absolutely no reference to the fact that Xolile Mngeni, the man sentenced to life imprisonment in 2012 for firing the shot that killed Anni, had died on Sunday in the Goodwood prison hospital wing. Mngeni, 27, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour while awaiting trial in 2011. He had also been accused of another murder six years earlier. Mngeni’s death will have no impact on the trial as he was not due to be called as a witness, unlike the driver, Zola Tongo, and the “fixer”, Monde Mbolombo, who are still expected to take the stand.
Yesterday Anni’s cousin, Sneha Mashru, 31, daughter of Jayantilal Hindocha, Anni’s father Vinod’s oldest brother, told the court the cousins had both been born in Skovde, Sweden and that they had grown up virtually as sisters. Anni was a year older than Sneha and they were closer to each other, she said, than they were to their own brothers and sisters.
“We confided in each other, we told each other anything and everything. We always knew we could turn to each other. She would tell me things she could not tell her sister or brother,” Mashru said.
Mashru said she had met Shrien Dewani after Anni’s third date with him shortly after their initial meeting, on a blind date, in May 2009.
“I thought Shrien Dewani was a nice guy,” she recalled her first impression for the court.
When prosecutor Shireen Riley attempted to lead Mashru to recount to the court why Dewani and Anni had stopped seeing each other in December 2009, Judge Jeaneatte Traverso interrupted, cautioning the state not to lead evidence that was hearsay. Hearsay evidence is regarded as untrustworthy as it cannot be cross-examined.
Traverso seemed to be in a particularly prickly mood on Monday, asking an earlier witness, Sun journalist Nick Parker, who had originally conducted an interview with Dewani on 20 November 2010, several times to speak up. Eventually a piqued Traverso called for an adjournment and asked the state to “sort out the acoustics and the air-conditioning to prevent any further unnecessary delays”.
Back in the witness stand and now audible, Mashru sketched a picture of a troubled on-again, off-again relationship between Anni and Dewani until their engagement on 8 May 2010. The engagement, she said, had come as a surprise to both Anni and her family.
She recounted how the Hindochas had travelled from Sweden to Bristol to meet the Dewanis and how during this meeting Kripa, who is married to Shrien’s brother, Preyen, “had come downstairs carrying a tray with a holy relic to bless the relationship”.
While the Hindochas had understood that meeting the Dewanis was a serious an important step in cementing the future relationship between their children and families, they had been surprised by Kripa and the “relic” as particularly the older Hindochas were aware that this was an indication that Anni and Shrien were now officially engaged.
Later, when Dewani’s counsel asked Mashru if she had known who or what the “holy relic” had been, she replied that she had not. Van Zyl informed her that it was Ganesha and asked if she knew what the Hindu deity represented.
“I am not a priest,” she replied.
“He removes obstacles,” Van Zyl informed her.
The incident surrounding the engagement and Mashru’s response to it is emblematic of many immigrant communities across the globe where a younger, more cosmopolitan generation observes some customs and traditions without being steeped in these. Mashru, like Anni, is trilingual, with Swedish as her mother tongue. She also speaks Gujarati and English. Anni, Shrien, Sneha and their brothers and sisters are transcontinental 21st Century global citizens who are as comfortable in Mumbai as they are in Dubai or Stockholm or Bristol.
The accoutrements and rituals that surround a modern marriage, in any culture in the world, remain immutable to an extent, even though younger people might not believe in these and “act out” these rituals to comply with tradition and the wishes of elders.
Mashru told the court that throughout their engagement Anni had expressed doubts about Dewani’s controlling nature and other quirks of personality that had irked her. Van Zyl later read out several emails between Anni and Dewani that indicated that the two did, on occasion, express their love for each other and their desire to be together.
However, after the couple’s three-day wedding ceremony in India Mashru said Anni had spent more time with her than with her husband.
“I told her ‘you should go to your new family. You are a Dewani now’. But she spent most of the time in the hotel with me.”
She said that before leaving for South Africa Anni had told her that she did not want to be married to Dewani and was, in fact, already contemplating getting a divorce.
“I told her that if she felt that she couldn’t be with him then when she came back, we had to think of options for her to leave him,” Mashru said.
Divorce, she told the court, would have been devastating to the reputation of the Dewani family, as Shrien had, in the past, already called off one engagement, which was “a taboo”.
The last time Mashru had communicated with Anni was when she had texted her from her honeymoon in South Africa saying that “things were going a lot better”.
She told the court that in the early hours of 14 November she had received a call from Dewani’s brother, Preyen, asking for Ami, Anni’s sister’s number. Preyen had informed her that Dewani and Anni had been involved in a robbery. When she had asked him if they were ok, he had replied that they were. But later that morning Ami had called to inform her that Anni had been murdered.
Mashru told the court that early on, after the murder, Dewani had told her something he had asked her “never ever to repeat to anyone and that was that Anni had been shot because she was screaming”. Dewani, she said, had said the attackers had let him out of the car and had told him they would drop Anni off further on.
Mashru said she had grown suspicious of Dewani after his return to England for the funeral, as he had not behaved as a man who was grieving or in mourning. He had been, she said, “cold and controlling” and had remarked to his father that his shoulders were stiff and that he needed a massage.
“He also said his suits were too big for him so he needed to go to the tailor. My thoughts were: ‘Why do you care about your appearance in these circumstances?’ I did not see any love.”
She said she had also noticed that Dewani had a healthy appetite and seemed to be eating a lot. Apart from planning the entire funeral on a spreadsheet, deciding on the music, who would sit or stand where and who would accompany the body, Dewani also went to the funeral parlour to be with Anni’s body.
“I had wanted to do Anni’s makeup for one last time. She would want me to do that. My sister and I went to the funeral parlour. Shrien, his mother and his aunt were there. Anni’s body was quite swollen from the embalming fluid and he was trying to squeeze these gold bangles onto her arm. He was pushing and pushing and I said to him ‘stop it now, you are hurting her’ and he just dropped her arm like that with a thud.”
Later, she had secretly recorded Dewani at a meeting at the Dewani’s apartment in Marble Arch in which it was hoped that the animosity between the two families would be smoothed over.
“I did it because he did not come across as a grieving husband whose wife had just been murdered. Why would Anni have gone to a township on her honeymoon? It was not something she would have wanted to see. How can a man be pushed out of a window from the back of the car? It was that, combined with his behaviour that made me suspicious.”
A week later she went to the police and handed over the recording.
Towards the end of his cross examination of Mashru Van Zyl asked her whether Anni had ever loved Shrien.
“Although she had her doubts, she decided to go ahead and their engagement was later announced. Did she love him?” asked Van Zyl.
Mashru took some time to reply.
“Yes, she did in the beginning. From the third date she fell in love with him.”
“Was she still in love with him in the times leading up to the marriage?” asked Van Zyl.
“She wanted the person she had fallen in love with,” replied Mashru.
Before the court adjourned Van Zyl read out a doctor’s report in which it is claimed that Anni had had consulted a physician on 4 November because she had wanted to fall pregnant. Mashru said she doubted this as Anni had been prescribed Roaccutane, used to treat acne, before the wedding and had been cautioned to take a double dose of contraceptives as the medication as could harm a fetus or cause a miscarriage. The trial continues today. DM
Photo: British businessman Shrien Dewani sits in the dock before the start of his trial at the Western Cape High Court, Cape Town, South Africa, 06 October 2014. Dewani is facing charges for allegedly masterminding the murder of his wife Anni during a staged car-jacking on their 2010 honeymoon. EPA/MIKE HUTCHINGS / POOL