While statistics in this country are grossly underestimated, at least 444,384 women were raped in South Africa in 2012/13. Yesterday the defence in the Shrien Dewani murder trial dropped an apparent “bombshell” in court. But what was more disturbing than the revelation itself was the astoundingly casual reference to rape it contained. It is a reference that former police chief Bheki Cele also made. By MARIANNE THAMM.
That Anni Dewani was not raped before she was murdered has been a constant point of discussion from the moment her body was discovered in the early hours of Sunday morning 14 November 2010. She had died after a single gunshot wound to her neck.
At first, those who learned of the murder were almost certain Anni must have been raped beforehand – for that, it appears is the fate of women in this country. In fact so inured are we to this, that she was NOT raped came as a surprise. So out of the “ordinary” was this that it immediately provoked suspicion in this case.
That a woman can expect to be raped is now so deeply embedded in this country’s metanarrative it no longer even presents a moment for pause, shock, or horror. An exploded view of this feature of the case – the frequent and casual references to rape – removed from the other currents that swirl beneath the murder of Anni Dewani – are alarming and depressing.
In his interview with UK author, Dan Newling, for his book Bitter Dawn, former police commissioner Bheki Cele recalling the case describes his thoughts thus: “Here comes the story that a British couple has been hijacked… That would have been the Sunday morning in my case – when I get briefed. But we are lucky that the husband has been pushed out and the woman has been shot and killed. [This is] puzzling. It is puzzling because the trend [hitherto] has been: kill the husband; abuse the woman. [In other words] kill the husband and do whatever to the husband and then go abuse the woman, rape the woman, kill the woman. But it looks like it has been established that the woman has never been abused… And when it came to what kind of couple. How beautiful the woman looked and all that! Again it’s to say, [in] every criminal man’s mind, the first thing you do with a woman is to rape the woman. But this seems to be very much far from this one.”
“The first thing you do with a woman is to rape the woman.”
“How beautiful the woman looked and all that!”…
When Newling quizzes Cele on his thinking at the time he replies: “I am a township boy… I grew up in the township. Some of these instincts are instincts around you. You hear guys speaking in the township. You hear guys saying ‘I would not have let that woman go!’… It did not make any sense to me because it was the middle of nowhere in terms of the woman. Look it would have been in a shebeen, it should be in a bush, it should be in a house..but is just in…a corner…A street corner…The detectives and the common sense said somebody wanted to dispense with the matter quickly. It had nothing to do with the matter beyond having her killed. Then [comes] the question; ‘why?’”
“I would not let that woman go”.
Yesterday convicted shuttle driver Zola Tongo endured his sixth and final day in the witness stand as the state’s key witness in the Shrien Dewani murder trial. Towards the end of his cross-examination Dewani’s senior counsel, Francois van Zyl, dropped what initially appeared to be a “bombshell” in court.
A few days earlier Van Zyl had asked Tongo if he had recalled a fellow inmate, one Bernard Mitchell, aka Beano, who had also been incarcerated in Section 5 of the Malmesbury prison where Tongo is being held.
Tongo had replied that he knew the man. Mitchell has been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of robbery and murder. Van Zyl told the court that in October 2011, while Dewani was still in the UK and the request for his extradition was being heard, an attorney, Taswell Papier, who had been appointed by Dewani in South Africa, had been approached by a warden on behalf of Mitchell.
Mitchell, said Van Zyl, had told the warden that he had information that was relevant to the Dewani trial. Mitchell, Van Zyl told Tongo, would be called to testify later.
Tongo sat impassively looking at Judge Jeanette Traverso while Van Zyl recounted Mitchell’s apparently vital information.
“You told the court that your sentences are put up against the doors of your cells. In September 2011, both of you were showering and you started a conversation, the two of you. You said to him that he got life in prison and he said that he saw you got 18 years. And you then told him that you are glad you didn’t get life and you explained to him when he asked why, you said that you were fortunate to become a state witness otherwise you would have also gotten life.”
Van Zyl continued; “You discussed jail gang activity and affairs in prison. At the time he asked you to tell him whether it is true what he heard about people talking about the Dewani murder. You didn’t want to talk but he convinced you to trust him. He then asked you why was the girl killed, she was such a pretty girl. Why didn’t they just rape her not kill her.”
“She was such a pretty girl. Why didn’t they just rape her and not kill her.”
“You then said that your accusers that were with you in this jeopardised the whole plan. ‘What do you mean jeopardised?’ Mitchell asked. And then you said that the plan was to kidnap her and to hold her hostage but that the whole plan went off the rails as when your accusers was on their way to the place where they wanted to hold her one of them wanted to rape her and she did not…and she was shot and you were informed of this act. You further told him you then thought about blackmailing Mr Dewani, threatening that if he doesn’t pay you the money, you will tell the police that he asked you to kill his wife. You further told him that this, that you were advised this was a stupid plan that there was a lot of trouble and it would be better to frame Dewani and to tell the police that it was the accused that asked to kill his wife and to take the spotlight off you and the others. You also advised him in that case you would not get such a long sentence. Now what do you say?
Tongo glowered before replying emphatically, “That is nonsense and lies. It might happen that this is just somebody who saw this on TV. Maybe I am saying this person might have watched this on TV and he just decided he must say this. I repeat it is nonsense and all lies.”
Tongo later said Mitchell’s revelations were all “prison stories”.
What to take or make of this entire tragedy? Relief that Anni did not become one of the rape statistics in this country? That she was spared the horror that so many South African women face annually, year after year without any apparent end in sight? And what is it we can do to reverse or uproot this casual narrative of abuse and violence against and towards 51 percent of the country’s citizens?
What will it take to reverse the terrible tide?
Meanwhile, it seems odd that Dewani’s defence team, who everyone so far agrees is on a winning wicket, would introduce the testimony of a convicted robber and murderer at this stage. Prison confessions or statements are notoriously suspect and are always treated with caution by the courts.
Did Van Zyl hope to rattle Tongo in one last bid to get him to crack? If that was the strategy, it didn’t succeed. Tongo left the witness stand sticking to his story. He agreed that he had made many mistakes, that his earlier statements and his current recollections did not always tally, but he insisted the Shrien Dewani was the man who had ordered that his young wife be murdered after a fake hijacking. DM
Photo: Shrien Dewani by Reuters.
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