With the approach of the fourth anniversary of the murder of Anni Dewani while on honeymoon in Cape Town on 13 November 2010, the Cape High court has heard evidence that none of the men accused of orchestrating her death apparently knew where or how she would be killed or where her body would be discarded. At this stage of the trial the seemingly chaotic murder plan appears to have been one of either evil genius or shambolic idiocy. By MARIANNE THAMM.
On Thursday the Hindocha family will conduct a small remembrance ceremony at the spot where Anni’s body was found in Khayelitsha in the early hours of Sunday, 14 November 2010, after she and her husband Shrien Dewani had allegedly been hijacked in Gugulethu the night before.
Anni’s father and mother Vinod and Nilam Hindocha, her brother Anish as well as other family members and friends will attend the memorial before heading for a temple for a private ceremony.
Dewani, who has been accused of orchestrating the “fake” hijacking and murder, has also requested the court not to sit on that day so that he too could commemorate Anni’s life. Dewani is currently being held at the Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital in Observatory.
It has been four years since the Swedish newlywed was found slumped in the back of a VW Sharan in Sinqolanthi Street, Ilitha Park, Khayelitsha. Anni died after a single gunshot wound to her neck. Three men, shuttle driver Zola Tongo, and hired hitmen Mziwamdoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni (who has subsequently died) have been convicted and sentenced for the killing.
Tongo later fingered Dewani as the mastermind behind the plan and the Bristol-based chartered accountant is currently facing four charges, including murder, in the Western Cape High court. He has pleaded innocence on all counts. Dewani’s defence team have had more than four years to prepare for the case and insist that he is the victim of a crime dreamt up and executed by at least four ruthless, criminal South Africans who have falsely implicated him to minimise their punishment.
While the trial is now in its sixth week, Anni’s family (and the court) are no closer to uncovering the truth of the murder as the defence attempts to unravel the anomalies, contradictions and improbabilities in the various versions presented by Dewani’s apparent co-conspirators. And while their versions do differ, all have stuck to their story that Shrien Dewani ordered the hit on his young wife.
Shuttle driver Zola Tongo spent over a week in the witness stand facing a gruelling cross-examination from Dewani’s senior counsel, Francois van Zyl. When he stepped down last week he insisted that while there were inconsistencies and myriad “mistakes” in his statements to police and his testimony, it was Shrien Dewani who had been behind it all.
Tongo’s testimony also revealed a plan hatched out of a ten-minute conversation in the shuttle after the couple had been ferried from Cape Town International Airport to the Cape Grace Hotel. So compelling was Dewani’s order or request for his “business partner to be removed from the scene” for R15,000, and so desirable the R5,000 Tongo said he would receive as his “cut”, that the father of six immediately set about setting the plan in motion.
Tongo admitted he had no idea how Anni would be killed or where. He said he also had no knowledge of how the middleman, Monde Mbolombo, would be paid for his part in the deal – which was linking Tongo with the killers, qualified tour guide Mziwamdoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni. The entire hijacking and killing, Tongo said, had been discussed at a hastily arranged meeting with Qwabe and Mngeni on the Saturday morning before the crime.
Tongo painted a picture of Dewani as a man impatient to have his wife killed and depicted himself as a victim of Dewani’s desire. His reward, he said, apart from the money, would be that Dewani would send business his way in future. Tongo told the court he had been “a fool’” and had been “misled” by Dewani because he [Tongo] had only thought of the financial reward.
Yesterday the man who made it all happen, Monde Mbolombo, 35, a former reception clerk at the Protea Hotel Colosseum in Century City, faced his third day in the witness stand. He is the state’s 14th witness to be called. Mbolombo was offered immunity from prosecution for turning state witness and yesterday admitted that he had initially lied to police about his address and that at the time he lived in Illitha Park – the same suburb where the VW Sharan was found abandoned.
Monde Mbolombo is a tall, burly man with an open, friendly face. He has a shaved head with a visible deep scar just above his left ear. His demeanour in court is polite and courteous. He is a man clearly accustomed to making strangers feel welcome, someone ideally suited to the hospitality industry.
Last week Mbolombo broke down in the witness stand after a harrowing few hours of being quizzed by Van Zyl. He told the court that he had been in financial difficulty at the time of the murder and that this had led him to become involved in the plot.
“We fell into this trap because we were thinking about money, not how precious a life is,” Mbolombo told the court.
Previous witness Zola Tongo’s demeanour was in marked contrast to Mbolombo’s. There was a tangible simmering, coiled anger to Tongo as he sat in the witness box for over a week. He was quick to temper and lash out at Van Zyl. Tongo glowered often and his jaw clenched as Van Zyl picked out the various and numerous inconsistencies in his statements and evidence.
Yesterday Van Zyl attempted to probe why Mbolombo, if he had merely been the “link” between Zola Tongo and the hitmen, had taken such an active interest in the murder. Phone records show numerous calls between Mbolombo, Tongo and Qwabe before and after the murder. On the Saturday morning of the murder Mbolombo had disussed with Qwabe how to procure “white hands”, or surgical gloves, so that no fingerprints would be left on the vehicle.
Several more calls between Mbolombo, Tongo and Qwabe followed but a puzzling picture emerged of men, who while they had discussed the R15,000 offered for the hit, had no idea how the target, Anni, would be killed or where the body would be disposed of. The court also heard that the men also frantically searched for a weapon (or two) on the Saturday to use during the hijacking.
While the conspirators, it appears, discussed every other logistical detail including that the child locks would be activated on the rear doors of the Sharan, the time and the place the killers would ambush the car in Gugulethu as well as that the fact that the vehicle would be abandoned afterwards near a car wash in Khaylelitsha, they failed to plan or discuss the most crucial aspect – the killing of Anni.
“Whether her throat would be slit or she would be shot, I didn’t know,” Tongo told the court.
Giving evidence, Tongo also said he had not thought about the fact that his vehicle, which he needed to earn a living, would be impounded by police, thus depriving him of an income.
“I was going to cross that bridge when I got to it,” said Tongo.
The conspirators also, judging from Tongo and Mbolombo’s testimony, never discussed how Mbolombo would be paid his share of the bounty with Tongo telling the court he had told Mbolombo to ask Qwabe for this.
“Nothing was written down. I would have asked for my money from Qwabe or Tongo,” Mbolombo said yesterday.
Mbolombo also told the court that his apparent ongoing contact with Tongo and Qwabe was because he was “curious” and “wanted to know what was going on.”
Asked by Traverso whether he had inquired as to what had happened to Anni’s body, Mbolombo replied “No”.
“Where were they going to kill the woman, in the car?” asked Van Zyl.
“I don’t know where she was going to be killed,” replied Mbolombo.
“But you said you wanted to know everything that was going on,” Traverso interjected.
Earlier Tongo had testified that Dewani had texted him on the night of the murder to inform him that the cash was in an envelope in a pouch located behind the passenger seat. Qwabe, currently serving a 25-year sentence and who testified in October, told the court that he had been “short-changed” on the night and had only found R10,000 in the envelope. Qwabe and Mngeni had also taken a further R4,000 in cash that they had found in Dewani’s pocket.
Dewani’s defence is that he had exchanged foreign currency on Saturday morning to pay for a surprise helicopter trip for Anni and had tasked Tongo with organising this. The money, he says, was in Anni’s handbag that night.
Yesterday Van Zyl suggested to Mbolombo that he had been much more invested in the killing than he has acknowledged and also that a fifth person, who has not been named, might also have been involved. The original plan, said Van Zyl, had been to kidnap Anni and hold her for ransom. Tongo, said Van Zyl, had clocked the Dewanis as rich tourists and had rushed to tell Mbolombo afterwards. The men, who all lived in close proximity to each other, had then conspired to hijack the couple and kidnap Anni. They had let Shrien go so that he could pay the ransom.
Mbolombo denied this, saying that Dewani “knows everything from start to finish”. Asked whether he had ever spoken with Dewani, Mbolombo replied that he had not.
“So you were relying on Mr Tongo? [For instructions on the plot]” asked Van Zyl.
“There was no one in charge,” offered Mbolombo.
Later he told the court that “it would be impossible for all of us to tell the same story,’ to which Van Zyl quipped, “If only you were all saying the same thing”.
“All three of us knew who was behind it. It is Mr Shrien Dewani who is sitting over there,” said Mbolombo. DM
Photo: British businessman Shrien Dewani appears in the Western Cape High Court on Monday, 6 October 2014. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA/Pool