South Africa's bollywood script: Cape Town vs Shrien Dewani

By Firdose Moonda

Johannesburg:  Cape Town’s scenic mountain passes, gorgeous beaches, peaceful winelands and diverse cultural heritage have made it the jewel of South Africa.  Travellers go there to avoid the mine-dump that is Johannesburg, the overbearing heat of Durban and the small town atmosphere of places like Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein.

But, the one thing they won’t escape is the crime.

Just ask Shrien Dewani, the British honeymooner whose bride, Anni, was killed when the couple was carjacked while driving through one of the city’s townships, Gugulethu, last November. Apparently, the couple had gone to see “the real Africa” after dining at an upmarket restaurant and were ambushed by two, armed men. They threw Shrien and the driver out of the vehicle but drove off with Anni. The next morning she was found, shot dead, but with none of her possessions missing.

South Africa hung its head in shame. Less than six months before that, it had hosted an incident free Football World Cup. Departing tourists had said they were surprised to find that the country was quite different to the place where crime mimicked open warfare and that they would take positive messages home with them. South Africa was reinventing itself as a destination for anyone from adventure lover to nature enthusiast to people just wanting to experience a slice of Africa.

Shrien and Annie's wedding was not legally recognised in the United Kingdom, something that emerged as the carpet of Shrien’s life was unravelled. Screen grab from ibnlive.com

The last of those three was what Shrien said Anni’s intention was, which was why they hired a taxi to take them into Gugulethu. At the time, very few wondered why she wanted to see one of the country’s poorest areas at 11pm, an hour when even some of the braver local souls would steer well clear. No, South Africa was too embarrassed to ask questions until a few weeks later, when they had digested the horror.

Only once the grief stricken widower was safely back home did doubt start to swirl in the Cape Town air. It seemed strange that Shrien had escaped unharmed, that Anni had not been assaulted at all, or even raped, and that neither were robbed. South Africans know their criminals well and, without being flippant, this was not a regular South African crime. It was too neat.

Vinod Hindocha (R) and Ami Denborg, father and sister of murdered Anni Dewani make a statement to the media outside Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in south London, on August 10, 2011. AFP

The suspicions were merely whispered at first, for fear of forming a cloud of accusation as a cover up for a serious wrong. Arrests were made swiftly, almost too quick for an incident of this nature, and then, the unthinkable happened. The taxi driver, Zola Tongo, signed a confession stating that Shrien had paid him R15,000 (Rs97,500) to recruit two men to carry out a simulated car jacking and kill his wife. Tongo accepted a plea bargain of 18 years in prison for his role and also testified at the preliminary hearings of the Xolile Mngeni and Mzwamadoda Qwabe, who carried out the murder.

So began the writing of South Africa’s own Bollywood script with Shrien an unlikely Salman Khan. His private life was more intriguing that any version of Khabi Khushi Khabi Gham, starting with the lavish wedding he and Anni had in Mumbai last year. It was a marriage scene out of a movie, with shiny sari-clad women being escorted by turban wearing men and doing traditional, Indian dances. Importantly, the wedding was not legally recognised in the United Kingdom, something that emerged as the carpet of Shrien’s life was unravelled.

Anni was said to have been unhappy, even though she had only been married for two weeks. She had broken their engagement once, after a massive argument in which she flung the ring back at him, but they had got back together. A close friend said that didn’t heal the wouunds and Anni had sent her a text from her honeymoon which read,” Crying is my new hobby.”

The clincher came when rumours began to sprout that Shrien was homosexual, with a male prostitute known as the German Master, alleging that Shrien had paid him for sex. Out of the haze of gossip, a motive emerged: that Shrien had killed his wife because he couldn’t come out of the closet. He couldn’t be openly gay because his conservative family would not accept it and if she was dead, he could simply get on with being himself while maintaining a façade of sorrow. To those who come from strict cultures, this explanation made sense.

Their argument grew legs when Anni’s sister said that Shrien didn’t want to have sex before marriage and another story surfaced that the couple did not spend their wedding night together. Shrien’s ex-fiancee also got her bit in, claiming he was impotent. All the while Shrien remained in a police hospital in Bristol, as South Africa attempted to have him extradited. He became depressed and, eventually, suicidal.

He said he was being victimized during a time of great anguish. His lawyers argued that he would not receive a fair trial if sent to South Africa, because the country’s media had already convicted him and that he would be housed in unsafe and unclean prisons where rape was rampant. South Africa promised him safety and justice and an opportunity to tell the truth.

On Wednesday, Judge Howard Riddle ruled that he had complete faith in the South African judiciary and that Shrien be extradited to South Africa to stand trial. British home secretary Theresa May has to ratify the order and can take up to eight weeks to make her decision.

When she does, Cape Town will be gearing up for summer, the time of year the Dewanis were its guests. It is expected to host more than 2 million tourists in the holiday season, bringing in millions of Rands in revenue. Those tourists will likely be interested in the same things that Shrien and Anni were, including a visit to one of the townships, but they may hesitate before going in, unsure if they driving into a death trap. As long as this murder remains unsolved, reservation will remain. That’s why it’s so important for South Africa that Shrien comes back, because either he will clear his own name or the country’s.

Firdose Moonda is a journalist based in Johannesburg.


Published Date: Aug 12, 2011 10:15 am | Updated Date: Aug 12, 2011 02:16 pm


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