The Killing of Anni: A chaotic and seemingly haphazard murder
- Marianne Thamm
- South Africa
- 04 Nov 2014 12:48 (South Africa)
As convicted shuttle owner Zola Tongo spent his fifth day in the witness stand in the Shrien Dewani murder trial, no one is any closer to uncovering what happened on the night of 13 November 2010 when Anni Dewani was murdered. Yesterday the court heard that Tongo, who earned up to R40,000 a month, was prepared to risk it all for R5,000 offered to him by a stranger. By MARIANNE THAMM.
It has been a meticulous, albeit at times tedious, cross-examination. Over and over, murder accused Shrien Dewani’s senior counsel, Francois van Zyl, picks at Zola Tongo’s various affidavits, statements and testimony like a surgeon trying to lance an infected wound.
Perhaps Van Zyl is hoping that Tongo will crack, that sooner or later, the barrage of relentless questions about the many inconsistencies in his recollection of the night of the murder will just prove too much. But so far, Tongo has withstood Van Zyl’s onslaught. Yes, he might have said this then, but today, in the court, he remembers it differently.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” is a refrain Tongo uses often.
As Tongo testifies, Shrien Dewani watches intently from the dock, often shaking his head, sometimes grimacing or smiling at the improbability of an answer, sometimes leaning forward as if he is straining to hear Tongo’s replies.
That there are gaps in Tongo’s memory of events does not necessarily mean he is lying or that the state’s entire case is crumbling. It is virtually impossible for anyone to have total recall of any event, even if it is one as heinous as this. But there are enough glaring inconsistencies.
After yesterday’s round of cross-examination it is clear there is much that has remained unspoken. Tongo insisted that Dewani had masterminded the entire hijacking and murder during a less than ten-minute conversation the two men had had in the taxi shortly after meeting at Cape Town International Airport on 12 November 2010.
Just how haphazardly the plot was seemingly knocked together afterwards is what is currently emerging in court.
During one particular line of questioning Van Zyl was attempting to determine how Dewani had agreed with Tongo where the money for the alleged hit would be hidden in the car and how he [Tongo] would later be paid his R5,000 fee for arranging the killing.
VZ: Did you regard the men [hitmen Mziwamdoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni] as dangerous?
ZT: Whether they were dangerous or not I would not have been able to tell.
VZ: They were prepared to kill another person and you did not regard them as dangerous?
ZT: They are a danger.
VZ: And what will happen to you if they are not paid?
ZT: I will not be able to know.
VZ: Was it up to you that they be paid and be paid the full amount and that money would be in the cubbyhole?
VZ: Did you and the accused [Dewani] discuss how the deceased would be killed?
VZ: Or where?
VZ: Did you know at the time you spoke to the accused [when they allegedly hatched the plot] how they [Qwabe and Mngeni] were going to kill the deceased?
ZT: I was not aware as to how the deceased would be killed.
VZ: And you did not discuss this?
ZT: I don’t remember me and the accused discussing this. What was important to the accused was that the job be done.
VZ: Did he ask who the men were?
ZT: I don’t remember him asking. I remember saying to him that I spoke to one of the young men and that I would meet them in the afternoon [the Saturday before the murder] and explain to them how it would happen.
VZ: So no one instructed anyone?
ZT: It was just a discussion.
VZ: Did you discuss where and how the woman had to be killed?
VZ: How they would kill her?
ZT: I don’t remember discussing that.
And then later…
VZ: Did you take any steps to ensure the money was in the cubbyhole?
ZT: I can’t remember that I took any steps.
VZ: I would have thought that the money was rather important!
ZT: As you are saying that, that must be how you think.
Judge Traverso: Mr Tongo, was it not important?
ZT: I was trusting the accused so much I thought he had prepared everything.
VZ: What if they didn’t find the money and you were in the car? What did you think would happen to you?
ZT: They might have thought I took the money. I won’t know.
Traverso: What do you think?
ZT: Maybe they come back to look for me.
VZ: Mr Tongo, you did nothing to make sure the money is in the cubbyhole or even in the car.
Earlier Van Zyl asked Tongo if he had thought about the fact that the crime would be committed using his vehicle and which he needed to earn an income. Tongo had earlier told the court he earned between R30,000 and R40,000 a month.
VZ: Mr Tongo, your car is to be left somewhere. You make no arrangements for them [the killers] to leave the keys and to lock it? Were you not concerned about your car?
ZT: I don’t remember.
VZ: What do you think may happen to your car in Khayelitsha?
ZT: I did not know where they would take it. I was going to cross that bridge when I got to it.
VZ: You were satisfied to take R5,000 for your part without considering damage to your car or that you might lose the car?
ZT: That is why I said I was a fool to allow myself to be misled when it comes to money.
VZ: What was the car worth?
ZT: I don’t know.
VZ: More than R5,000?
VZ: The risk you took with your job, the trouble you went to is out of proportion to the payment of R5,000. Would you agree?
VZ: Why not ask for more money?
ZT: I never thought about it.
VZ: You didn’t even negotiate for more than R5,000?
The “deceased”, “the woman”, “the wife”, seldom Anni. In fact, never Anni.
On the night the murder was due to take place Tongo told Van Zyl that “my knees were shaking”. Be that as it may, he was caught on CCTV activating both child locks of the rear doors of his VW Sharan in the parking lot of the Cape Grace Hotel before picking up Anni and Dewani.
If he had been so afraid, suggested Van Zyl, why not simply pull out of it all?
VZ: Then why not just not go?
ZT: It is because the accused said to me I must remember I am the only person he has spoken to. He also said that he would increase my business by referring people to me.
Van Zyl will continue to cross-examine Tongo, the state’s star witness, today. He is expected to stand down before the end of the week.
Meanwhile, the first book on the case, Bitter Dawn (Jonathan Ball), by British investigative journalist, Dan Newling, has just been published in South Africa.
In the book, former national police commissioner, Bheki Cele, reveals that he had suspected Shrien Dewani days after the murder. South African authorities had allowed Dewani to leave the country, Cele said, “for humanitarian reasons” and with the belief that police would look “at the repatriation kind of arrangement with British and all that”. DM
Photo: Taxi driver Zola Tongo covers his face as he awaits the start of his trial for the murder of a British tourist during her honeymoon visit to South Africa, at the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town December 7, 2010. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham