After an eight-week trial in the Western Cape High Court, lingering doubts remain. Did Shrien Dewani orchestrate the killing of Anni Hindocha? It is a question that has continuously plagued those of us who have been covering the court case. Like a tongue returning to probe a cavity in a tooth, we have all obsessively interrogated the more baffling aspects of this crime. By MARIANNE THAMM.
Not a day goes by when journalists who have been covering the case since the murder of Anni Hindocha in 2010 and who have sat through the eight-week trial in the hard court benches have not called or WhatsApped each other to talk through yet another puzzling aspect of the murder.
We run through a gamut of recurring troubling questions. What about this or that phone call? Did Anni find out about his double life? How could Shrien possibly have been pushed out of the car window? Why did the hijackers let him go? Why was Anni not raped? How could Dewani have watched porn on his laptop so soon after the murder? Why did Zola Tongo risk a lucrative job as a shuttle driver for a mere R5,000? Why was Shrien’s stolen cell phone never recovered? Is it possible to arrange a killing with a stranger in less than 10 minutes? And how is it possible Tongo managed to find such willing participants in such a short period of time?
And finally the most important question: did he do it?
Theory 1 – The Beard Theory, in which Shrien Dewani is not guilty… possibly.
Here the narrative goes something like this: Shrien Dewani is a gay man who has been leading a double life. He joins the online dating website Gaydar in 2004 where he registers as a “single gay man” and under the avatar “Asiansubguy”. He clandestinely goes to gay clubs in London where he participates in group sex. He has a long- term affair with a man who is a civil servant in the city. He pays an escort, the German Master, Leopold Leisser, for sadomasochistic sex.
But out in the “real world”, Shrien is the handsome younger son of Prakash and Snila Dewani who, together with his older brother, Preyen, a lawyer, has built up a hugely successful homecare business in the UK. The Dewanis live in a palatial home in Westbury-on-Trym in a suburb of Bristol. Months before meeting Anni, Shrien breaks off his engagement to the 26-year-old Rani Kansagra, whom he met in 2008. Kansagra, the daughter of the founder of the Indian airline SpiceJet, apparently later tells South African police that Shrien had sexual problems.
Away from his secret life, Shrien is desperate to pass as an “ordinary man” with a wife and a family, who can make some meaningful contribution to his community. We know because Shrien has revealingly declared this in an email to Anni after one of their numerous arguments before their marriage in October 2010.
The fact that Shrien is gay, some have suggested, would have led to his family “excommunicating” him, but a little known fact is that his sister, Preyal, also a lawyer, is a lesbian. Throughout this trial she has sat with her partner on the court benches next to Prakash and Snila.
Ah, but it is the way of the world, you might say. It appears always to be easier for a family to accept a lesbian daughter than a gay son. The underlying complexities of this are rooted perhaps in a warped homophobia, say some, where lesbianism is viewed as less threatening. In a phallocentric and heteronormative world, sex “without a penis” isn’t really sex after all. And the image of lesbians as somehow desirable in heterosexual pornography has embedded this view. There is also the famous myth that Queen Victoria, presented with the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 and which criminalised male homosexuality (among other offenses), declared that lesbianism didn’t exist. A closer truth is that male politicians of the time had decided not to legislate against lesbianism with the hope of keeping it secret from women. But we digress.
Anni Hindocha, unlike Rani Kansagra, appears to be more forgiving and accepting of Shrien’s reticence about having sex. She tells her father Vinod that Shrien has told her he does not want to have sex before marriage. Vinod tells his youngest daughter that he likes this quaintly old-fashioned attitude in his future son-in-law and that it is the mark of a good “Hindu man”.
And so Anni Hindocha becomes Shrien Dewani’s beard, an unwitting cover for his double life. She renders him “respectable”. At 28 she is keen and ready to embark on a new chapter in her life as a wife and a mother. The couple had, according to a medical report handed to the court, hoped to fall pregnant. Forgiving the millionaire businessman his “quirks” of personality, including the fact that he is “controlling” and a “perfectionist”, is something she is prepared to work on. Shrien’s older brother intervenes after one argument, urging Shrien to become more demonstrative towards his new bride to be. This he promises to do.
Shrien, accustomed to juggling his dual identity, is no doubt convinced he will be able to shape and mould Anni, get her to eventually accept him, as is evident from the pleading emails and SMSes that shoot between them after arguments and disagreements. But Anni is becoming increasingly unwilling to accept Shrien’s behaviour. In the meantime, everyone assures her it is “just pre-wedding nerves” or due to the stresses of planning the massive ceremony due to take place in India.
Anni is troubled by Shrien’s real lack of emotional connection to her, coupled with his inability to be intimate. She experiences his coldness and rejection as humiliating and tells her cousin Sneha. Shrien, she tells Sneha, has trouble having erections. But Shrien explains it away, for now, saying he has fertility problems and is being treated for it – by receiving regular injections of testosterone.
On their wedding night it appears Shrien engineers an argument so that he can spend their first night as husband and wife sleeping on the couch. Their families intervene and Shrien promises to change.
Before the couple leaves for South Africa on honeymoon Anni tells Sneha she is thinking of getting a divorce. But later she texts her cousin from the Chitwa Chitwa game lodge in Mpumalanga saying that things are better and that she’ll tell her more later.
In this narrative Shrien Dewani needs Anni Hindocha.
He has had several opportunities to pull out of the marriage when Anni angrily flings the engagement ring back at him and breaks it off. But he is desperate to be a married man, perhaps convinced that he will be able to find a way of deceiving Anni in future. After all, many gay men are married and successfully conceal this from their wife. Many men have affairs with other women too.
And why not, since he has managed to deceive everyone else so far? In this narrative Shrien Dewani would not benefit from running the huge risk of having his wife murdered. Here is a man who controlled almost every aspect of the wedding ceremony as well as his double life. Would he, in such a haphazard and chaotic fashion, engage complete strangers whom he had just met in a foreign country to kill her as a “way out” of a marriage he CHOSE to enter?
But it happens. The killing. And shockingly so. Through some malignant aligning of the planets or by chance, this man leading a double life and who clearly does not love his wife as a husband, finds himself caught up in a terrible tragedy he could not have dreamed of or foreseen.
The vehicle in which he is being transported around Cape Town sightseeing is hijacked late at night in a township. After the two hijackers rob the couple of around R70,000 worth of jewellery, phones and cash, the driver and Shrien are ordered out of the car. They drive off with his wife who is later found shot dead.
Might Shrien’s “strange” behaviour after he learns of the murder perhaps be explained not because he has orchestrated the killing, but because he is consumed by a flood of tormented and conflicting emotions? While he may not have “loved” Anni Hindocha as a husband, he was surely not devoid of ANY feeling towards her?
He will now become the focus of a high-profile crime committed in a foreign country. Shrien Dewani knows his own back-story and the chances are he will be publically exposed.
And so it happens. Soon after police allow him to return to the UK with his wife’s body, rumours surface that Shrien is gay and that he is leading a double life. Leopold Leisser comes forward and gives a statement to the police. South African police announce that Shrien is a prime suspect in the murder. He is, say police, the mastermind behind it, the man who has induced shuttle driver, Zola Tongo, to find willing hitmen who will do the job for R15,000.
Preyen, protecting his younger brother, attempts to divert the fallout. He employs disgraced publicist Max Clifford to mop up the sordid story that is unfolding. Shrien Dewani, a man accustomed to extreme secrecy, is exposed to the world. It is his greatest fear. He suffers “a nervous breakdown” not necessarily because he is guilty of planning his wife’s murder, but because his extreme double life has been brought into the open. While dealing with this he has also to deal with the horror of Anni’s murder, that he was unable to protect her, that he had failed as “a man”.
Theory 2. In which four South Africans target a couple with a particularly sensational backstory to rob. In this version Shrien is guilty – well, sort of.
Of all the couples conspirators Zola Tongo, Monde Mbolombo, Mziwamdoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni could have chosen, who walked out of the arrivals hall at Cape Town International Airport, they chose the Dewanis, who had a complicated back-story they could not have imagined.
A couple where one of the parties was harbouring a secret life that was in danger of being somehow curtailed by the marriage. A couple where one of the parties was seriously considering a divorce. How likely is this?
According to Dewani’s defence, the four South Africans, three of whom are involved somehow in the tourism industry, plotted to target rich tourists and to rob or at least kidnap and hold one of them for ransom. Unlike Colombia, however, kidnappings for ransom are not a common criminal practice in South Africa, but hey, there is always a first.
Dewani’s defence claims that Mbolombo, who was offered immunity by the NPA if he testified against Shrien, is actually the mastermind and that phone records of the night of the killing point to this. In his testimony Mbolombo agrees he played a greater role but says this was out of curiosity more than anything else.
Two of the South Africans, driver Zola Tongo and hotel receptionist, Monde Mbolombo, have no previous convictions. They are in debt but both have good jobs, Tongo earning between R30,000 and R40,000 a month transporting high-end tourists around Cape Town. The two hijackers, Mziwamdoda Qwabe, an out of work former tour guide, and Xolile Mngeni, a criminal with several cases pending, are not known to Tongo. It is Mbolombo who is acquainted with these criminals. He hangs out with them on Monwabisi beach where, after drinking, they boast of their exploits.
But the prosecution says that on 11 November, Shrien Dewani arrives with a dastardly plot in mind. He takes a huge risk for a man so accustomed to being in control. And this risk is perhaps the plan of an evil genius who knows that somehow in the chaos that will follow, all evidence of his alleged involvement will be explained away. Which is exactly what happens. All the state is left with in the end is the accomplice evidence of Zola Tongo. Nothing else points to Shrien’s direct involvement.
The state, after correctly being ordered by Judge Jeanette Traverso not to attempt to use Shrien’s sexual orientation to locate a motive, suggests that it is indeed possible, in South Africa, to hire a hitman in less than 30 minutes. It has been done before. Baby killer Dina Rodrigues found a willing hitman at a taxi rank who was willing to slit the throat of a six-month-old baby for R40,000.
The question, then, is why, if Shrien was not involved, all four accomplices would all independently suggest that he orchestrated the killing. How could Tongo have known the many complications surrounding the young marriage, of the nature of Shrien’s “other” life?
But here’s where things get murky again. Would Zola Tongo really agree to become part of this conspiracy for a mere R5,000, his cut of the payment? He told the court that he was “foolish” and “greedy” and had not thought about the fact that a life – Anni’s – would be taken. He had agreed to help Shrien because of a promise of future business, a potentially far more lucrative offer. And this, Judge Traverso agreed, was probably what motivated him.
Monde Mbolobmo, in turn, after being immediately contacted by Zola, locates the number of Mziwamdoda who agrees to do the job. Mziwamdoda ropes in Xolile who Mziwandoda later told the court had set the fee of R15,000. This was one discrepancy that Judge Traverso picked up on in granting Shrien’s defence team’s 174 application to have charges dismissed.
Did the men implicate Shrien in order to minimise their sentences, to escape prosecution entirely (as was the case with Monde) or because police had tortured or induced them so say so in order to salvage the country’s reputation? Look, we are not a crime-ridden unsafe destination. It was the husband who planned all of this! We can’t prove it, but we know, said the NPA’s spokesperson Nathi Ncube after last week’s ruling that set Shrien free.
But then why would Zola in court scupper his own testimony against Shrien? Was he lying? And did these many untruths simply blur the real truth – that the businessman might not have been involved?
While almost every aspect of the couple’s trip to this country – apart from the actual murder – was captured on CCTV and while phone records showed that Shrien had contacted Tongo before and after the murder, this proved nothing, said the judge. Only merely that their encounters had taken place but not what was said or discussed during those contacts.
Then there are the many unanswered questions. The rings that Shrien had said he handed to the killers while pleading for their lives and which he later told police were hidden in the seam of the rear seat. The apparent surprise helicopter trip for Anni that would have cost R15,000 – the reason he had exchanged the money – and that he didn’t mention to police or his family. The R10,000 in cash that was in the car on the night and that he also failed to mention to anyone.
In the end Judge Jeanette Traverso did not find enough evidence on which a “reasonable man” could convict Shrien Dewani on the five charges. And last week he returned home, a free man.
Do we need Shrien Dewani to be guilty because he deceived Anni about who he really is? Do we need him to be guilty so that we alone as a country do not bear the burden of shame of how Anni died?
Is he guilty?
We just don’t know. We never will. DM
Original photo: British businessman Shrien Dewani appears in the Western Cape High Court on Monday, 6 October 2014. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA/Pool