Sunday, December 26, 2010

DEWANI: And why it just does not add up...

Murder in the rainbow nation

Author Tim Butcher explores the hidden side of the South African city of Cape Town, where tourist Anni Dewani was murdered - and asks why the case still does not add up.

Anni and Shrien Dewani with their family on their wedding day
Anni and Shrien Dewani with their family on their wedding day Photo: SWNS
In the townships of Cape Town carjacking and murder are grimly routine, so commonplace they barely register in the press, investigated by local police with scant hope of the culprits ever being caught.
But there was nothing routine about the shooting two weeks ago of Anni Dewani, the elegant 28-year-old honeymooner of Indian extraction whose body was found in an abandoned car in Khayelitsha, South Africa's largest shantytown.
Victims tend to be local not foreign like Mrs Dewani, a Swede whose family had been forced out of their home in Uganda by Idi Amin in his anti-Asian pogroms of the early 1970s and given asylum in Scandinavia.
And the response of the South African authorities to the case has been just as extraordinary.

 After hosting a largely crime free World Cup, the criminal justice system is doing everything it can to solve the case, anxious to protect the country's reputation and undermine critics who dwell on high crime rates.
They had one lead to work on. High though the carjacking and murder rate is in South Africa, it is rarely random, so the investigation focussed on whether the killing was a set-up and, if so, by who?

The extraordinary factors surrounding the case mean every detail of the murder has been pored over from South Africa to Sweden and Britain, home to her husband of just two weeks, Shrien Dewani, 31, a healthcare executive from Bristol.

The newlyweds had started their honeymoon with a safari near South Africa's world famous Kruger Park before flying to the nation's `Mother City' and were only a day into the Cape Town leg of their trip when the carjacking took place.

The role of Mr Dewani in particular has come under growing scrutiny, with the millionaire giving a series of newspaper interviews to present various versions of events.

After flying home to Britain, apparent inconsistencies in his accounts stirred yet more media interest and he took the unusual step of retaining the services of Max Clifford as spokesman and media manager.

Mr Clifford has said his client is now under sedation and described him as ``absolutely devastated that, after losing the love of his life, he is now the subject of foul rumour and murky claims''.

Meanwhile with South Africa's reputation as a safe tourist destination on the line the local authorities have taken remarkable measures with the case.

Rodney de Kock, the most senior public prosecutor in the local province of the Western Cape, was given the task of overseeing the case, appearing at press conferences and court arraignments normally far below his pay grade.

At first good progress in the investigation was made as three local men were arrested and charged with the kidnap, robbery and murder.

But with the case adjourned until Monday, police have still not completed their investigation nor ruled out charging others with involvement.

One of the three charged men is understood to be arranging a plea bargain whereby the authorities reduce any potential sentence in exchange for detailed information about the background to the case.

When news came through of a tourist kidnapped after dark and murdered out on the Cape Flats, the dusty pancake-flat hinterland to the picturesque massif of Table Mountain, questions were immediately asked about what the victim was doing there at that time.

Back in the worst days of apartheid in the 1950s and 1960s, Cape Town's non-white population was ethnically cleansed and dumped out on the Flats in a series of informal settlements that would become known as townships.

Langa was the first but as it filled to overflowing its population spilled out into a series of ever larger communities including Guguletu and Khayelitsha.

In spite of grim living conditions the proximity of the city's vibrant economy meant the townships acted like a sump for economic migrants both from within South Africa and beyond, mushrooming in size year after year.

The end of apartheid in 1994 did little to end the economic impetus so new arrivals have kept coming.

According to one count Khayelitsha's 2.2 million population now makes it the largest township in South Africa, overtaking Soweto outside Johannesburg 900 miles north east.

Townships were once the battleground in the struggle against apartheid but today they are the setting for South Africa's battle against poverty and crime.

While the distinctive outline of Table Mountain is visible over the corrugated iron roof tops of crowded shanties on the Flats, the area is a world away from the well-tended vineyards and spotless beaches seen by foreign tourists visiting Cape Town.

Safe enough during the day, they attract a trickle of tourist visitors, including the celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, whose media machine recently produced a magazine piece lauding Mzoli's butchery and restaurant in Guguletu.

The chef was photographed with some of Mzoli's signature dishes – meat cooked on braai – and he wrote enthusiastically about the ``brilliant vibe'' of the place.

But darkness changes the character of the townships completely, transforming swathes of the Flats into a dangerous and lawless landscape where bars close early and streets empty. Mzoli's, for example, closes at 7pm.

And that is what makes the actions of the Dewanis so difficult to explain at roughly 11.30pm on the night of Saturday 13 November.

After eating in restaurant in town of Somerset West they were returning by taxi to their upmarket hotel, the Cape Grace, in the centre of Cape Town's well-visited Waterfront district, when the car turned off the main N2 highway and headed the short distance into Guguletu.

There were only three people in the vehicle, the Dewanis, and the driver, Zola Tongo, 31, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr Dewani told one newspaper that his wife had suggested a detour into Guguletu to ``look at the real Africa'' but he later told another reporter it was the brainchild of the the driver.
Police are believed to have scrutinised Tongo's mobile phone to check reports he had called ahead someone to inform them of the plan to head into Guguletu.

The roads in Guguletu still bear apartheid-era names and it was at the junction of NY (standing for Native Yard) 108 and NY112 that two armed carjackers forced their way into the vehicle before ejecting Tongo.

Again, Mr Dewani gave inconsistent accounts saying the incident in effect happened straight after they turned off the motorway but he later said the driver had had enough time to take them past Mzoli's nearby before the attackers struck.

One of the attackers took the wheel and drove a few miles into neighbouring Khayelitsha where Mr Dewani was thrown out of the car before his wife was driven off by the two armed men.

Once more his accounts of being ejected from the vehicle differed. In one he said he was thrown out of the car window while it was moving, and in a second account he said the car had stopped and he was pulled out of the window.

The abandoned vehicle was found after daybreak on Sunday 14 November with Mrs Dewani's corpse in the back. She had been shot once in the neck. The South African police have not confirmed nor denied whether she was the victim of sexual assault.

Mr Dewani cooperated fully with the South African police in the aftermath of the attack and was given permission to fly home to Britain four days after the attack with the body of his wife for her funeral.

Mr Tongo has now been arrested and charged with kidnap, robbery and murder, along with two other men, Xolile Mngeni, 26, Mzwamadoda Qwabe, 26, both from Khayelitsha.
Mr Dewani's local lawyer, Billy Gundelfinger, said he had been in regular contact with the South African police and prosecuting authorities but had received no request for his client to return to South Africa.

Focus now shifts to the next scheduled court appearance tomorrow (MON) in Cape Town where details of the plea bargain being arranged with Tongo are expected to become clear.
Tim Butcher is the author of, `Chasing the Devil – The Search for Africa's Fighting Spirit', published by Chatto & Windus