As Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso prepares to make a ruling on Monday as to whether murder accused Shrien Dewani will be free to go or will have to remain in the dock a little longer, Anni Dewani’s family have asked the man accused of killing their daughter and sister to take the stand. By MARIANNE THAMM.
In the end there will only be these truths. On 11 November 2010, the 28-year-old Anni Ninna Hindocha arrived on honeymoon in Cape Town, a new bride, not radiantly happy, but willing at least to give her marriage to the 30-year-old Shrien Dewani a chance.
Two days later she was dead. Killed by a single shot she had tried to deflect by raising her left hand. The bullet ripped through her hand and struck her in the neck, severing two veins before perforating her spinal chord and exiting through her back. She was left to die alone in the back of a VW Sharan abandoned opposite a vacant plot of land in Khayelitsha.
Before she became “the deceased”, “the woman”, “the wife”, “the victim”, she was the middle daughter of Vinod and Nilam Hindocha and a sibling to older sister Ami and younger brother Anish. The Hindochas had found asylum in Sweden in the 1970s after fleeing Uganda during Idi Amin’s reign of terror. By all accounts, the vivacious Anni had enjoyed growing up in Sweden, had excelled at school and had gone on to train as an engineer.
In 2009 Anni met millionaire Bristol accountant and businessman, Shrien Dewani while on a visit to London and after a tempestuous and at times troubled courtship, the couple married in India in October 2010.
These are the only uncontested truths in the matter. Most of the narratives that have unfolded after the tragedy are a tangled web of duplicity, mendacity, deceit and denial, of police inefficiency, of the chaos of the criminal underworld, of the disturbing nature of crime and human greed.
Anni’s murder in South Africa a month after her wedding and during what was either a botched hijacking or robbery planned by four opportunistic South Africans or a deliberate and callous assassination orchestrated by her husband Shrien – over and above the loss and grief it brought to her family and friends – also offered pause to reflect on the intersection of worlds that appear to exist in isolation but that in reality run parallel to what we believe to be ‘ordinary’ life.
There is the secret world of Shrien Dewani, a successful businessman, who wrote to his fiancée that his greatest wish was to be married, be a father and a valuable member of his community. But on the far side of this ideal Dewani lived another life where he identified as a gay man who paid for sadomasochistic sex with strangers. Dewani, a man described as “a control freak” in one life, could not have imagined that millions of strangers would eventually come to learn that he was “Asiansubguy” in another.
All this aside, Dewani had had – his defence team pointed out during the eight-week trial in Cape Town – occasion to extricate himself from the relationship with Anni. She had broken off their engagement several times so he would have had no need, argued his senior counsel, Francois van Zyl, to find a way out of this marriage by arranging to have his wife assassinated. Four South Africans who had simply viewed the wealthy couple as easy prey, Dewani has claimed, committed the murder.
Then there are Dewani’s alleged accomplices. Shuttle driver Zola Tongo, serving 18 years for his role in the murder, and who, after handing himself over to police had confessed he had taken part in the killing because Dewani had asked him to do so and had offered to pay R15,000. His fee for facilitating the crime would be a paltry R5,000.
Until their encounter in the arrivals hall of Cape Town International airport on 11 November, Tongo had no criminal record. He was the father of five children and supported his elderly mother and other siblings. He earned good money transporting high-end tourists around Cape Town. He was indebted – as we all are. During his testimony he failed to explain how he could, in an alleged 10-minute conversation with Dewani, agree to participate in the killing of another human being, but this he did. The offer, he told the court, promised to bring more business later. “I was a fool,” he confessed.
Monde Mbolobmo, the affable hotel receptionist also apparently did not hesitate when Tongo approached him almost immediately after Dewani’s request to find a hitman. One phone call later and Mziwamdoda Qwabe, a 27-year-old unemployed tour guide, also agreed to end a life for money. Then the 25-year-old Xolile Mngeni, who had had several brushes with the law, was roped in. And so Anni Hindocha ended up dead in the back of a car in South Africa.
State prosecutor Adrian Mopp has argued that it is highly possible for a hit of this nature to be arranged in South Africa and the fact that it had been executed in such an “amateurish” and seemingly chaotic fashion did not make it implausible. That there were discrepancies and inconsistencies too in the testimony of witnesses Tongo, Qwabe and Mbolombo did not mean these should be dismissed outright. All of the men have implicated Dewani and would have had no reason to do so if it were not the truth.
The killing of Anni has been a baffling case with many still unanswered questions. And while Dewani’s defence may believe that their client has offered a plausible explanation for his actions – most of which were captured on CCTV footage – two days before the murder, nothing points directly to his complicity.
For four years the Hindocha family have not known what really happened to Anni and during many press conferences have consistently asked for only one thing – the truth.
This week, as the family found themselves in limbo in Cape Town while Traverso deliberates on the defence’s request for a section 174 dismissal of the charges, Anni’s brother Anish begged for more time so that Dewani could take the stand and tell the court his version of what happened.
If Traverso ruled in favour of the defence’s application, said Anish, “it would be a terrible development in what has been a four-year wait, if we and the people of South Africa are not afforded the full story”.
The family did not want to return to Sweden, he said, still carrying doubts as to whether Anni’s murder received a fair and proper hearing in South Africa. The family did not expect the judge, he said, to rule in the defence’s favour on Monday and were looking forward to Dewani finally breaking his silence.
In the meantime, the JusticeForAnni campaign has collected 2401 signatures for a petition asking that Traverso be recused from the case because of her apparent bias towards the defence. The group has also compiled a 22-page ‘dossier’ detailing various transgressions by Traverso in relation to the state presenting its case. The dossier highlights the many interruptions and questions the Judge asked Mopp during the trial
And while Traverso has certainly directed most of her queries and questions at Mopp, sometimes surprisingly abruptly, these have all been more in relation to a search for legal clarity than deliberate stonewalling.
While the murder of Anni has been and will continue to be a deep personal loss for her family, it has also been a case that has reflected on South Africans collectively. While killings of this nature take place across the globe, the fact that it happened here has made it personal and there is a sense of shame that Anni could have died here in this horrific fashion.
The manner in which the department of justice has handled the case, flying Dewani to the country in a private jet, housing witnesses and the families in Cape Town for eight weeks, ensuring access by the press to the case has run smoothly has provided some counterweight to the criminality of those South Africans who have been found guilty of this crime.
Preyen Dewani’s comments during a secretly taped interview that “we are not dealing with anything normal here; we are dealing with South Africa. This is not Sweden or the UK, where you have a robust police and court system. These are black people” are deeply insulting and have cut deep and may reflect the views of those who are racist or ignorant with regard to South Africa and our justice system.
If the court allows Shrien Dewani to return home because the evidence presented to the court is not convincing enough to convict him, then it will be a bitter triumph for the law. In the end, only Dewani knows the truth and he must live with it as it must live with him. DM
Photo: Vinod Hindocha (C), father of Anni Dewani, arrives with flowers for a ceremony at the area where she was murdered in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa, 13 November 2014. EPA/NIC BOTHMA