Honeymoon killing: The murder most foul

Last Updated 18 December 2010, 03:17 IST
Honeymoon killing: The murder most foul

The Honeymoon Murder, as the crime is often called, has proven to be more than a rivetting whodunit. South Africa’s honour seems on the line, as is the dignity of Guguletu, this crime-bedevilled township near Cape Town where the abduction happened.

Last month, Shrien Dewani, a wealthy young businessman from Britain, brought his new wife, Anni, to this country. They first stayed at a luxury game resort, escorted by guides through the bush and pampered with comforts by private butlers. They moved on to Cape Town, staying at a boutique hotel and spa with glorious views of the waterfront.

Then, on Nov 13, their chauffeur rather curiously took them for a precarious nighttime drive through Guguletu, where two men forced their way into the vehicle. Shrien and the driver were eventually pushed from the car. Anni was later found dead in the back seat, shot once in the neck.

Newspapers, here and in Britain, were insatiable in their coverage. Photos from the couple’s wedding magnified the horror of their ruined love. They had been married among family and friends in India, Shrien wearing a jewelled turban, Anni with a streak of vermilion in her lustrous brown hair. Their gaze was a joyous beam, handsome as any lovers in a Bollywood poster.

Once back home in England, the grieving Shrien said in an interview with ‘The Daily Mail’ that the honeymooners had ventured into the troubled township because Anni had grown up in Sweden, “so clean and safe, and maybe a bit sterile” and wanted to see “the real Africa.” The British tabloids emphasised South Africa’s problems with violent crime. In a much-quoted overstatement, ‘The Daily Mail’ said the townships “are generally considered no-go areas for tourists.”

But last week, the sorrowful story took a vile twist. The driver, Zola Robert Tongo, bartered for an 18-year prison sentence in exchange for confessing his part in the crime. He pointed to the bridegroom himself as the instigator, saying Dewani had given him $150 to set up the murder. Two other men were alleged to have done the actual killing, receiving the $2,200 that was eagerly offered for the job.

Suddenly, the crime seemed an entirely different kind of homicide, no longer the tale of a calamitous honeymoon in a crime-ridden country but rather a matter of a devious British moneybags who bumped off his bride, using South Africa’s reputation for violence to prop up the plausibility of his story.

Bheki Cele, the national commissioner of police, had found some reports in the foreign news media to be offensive, and he reciprocated with a racial slur against Dewani, adding that the bridegroom had “lied to himself” in thinking that “we South Africans were stupid.”

For his part, Dewani, 31, has been arrested in Britain on suspicion of murder and is now fighting extradition to South Africa while free on $3,50,000 bail. He denies any part in the murder. His lawyer, Clare Montgomery, insists that Tongo’s confession was cooked up by a government out to protect its tourism industry. Max Clifford, his famous publicist, said the driver “changes his story so often that nothing is certain except he’s a liar.” The lawyers for two other suspects claim their clients were tortured by the police.

Lame excuses

But here in Guguletu, the murder case against Dewani is already welcomed as a sweeping vindication. “Thanks God, this crime now seems something planned outside and nothing you can blame on Guguletu,” said Tobias Poswa, a community worker.

From the start, people here were upset at the attention given their township, especially because Anni Dewani’s body was discovered elsewhere and none of the four South Africans so far arrested for the crime live here.

Nevertheless, they too have been captivated by the case and can recount virtually every detail publicly known about the murder. They say they always found something fishy in Dewani’s version of events.

“He said he was thrown out of the window of a moving car, but he didn’t have a scratch on him,” Mavis Guwa, an elderly woman, said suspiciously.

Her neighbour, Nozipho Jali, added, “Why did they take the wife and let the husband go? And why wasn’t she raped? If criminals take your woman, they rape her. That’s how it’s done.”

Ntziki Ntshinga, who works for a trade union, said even the driver’s confession did not fully lay out the extent of connivance: “He said Dewani picked him out at random at the airport and then asked him if he could help with a murder. Come on, this doesn’t happen. These two men must have had a connection from before.”

If Guguletu was actually selected to reflect the ‘real Africa’, it was not a bad choice, given its complexity. About 3,00,000 people live here, many of them in squalor. Residents fortunate enough to own a government-built house collect rent from tenants, who erect shanties in the backyard. Squatters occupy vast areas, their homes a patchwork of scrap metal and discarded lumber.

And yet many who were born here in this half-century-old township have stayed and prospered. Guguletu has an upscale mall, a sports complex and a branch of the College of Cape Town. The streets are crowded and vibrant. Wealthier people live in manicured neighbourhoods like Station Park.

Around Cape Town, Guguletu is less considered a no-go area than a place to pig out. Mzoli’s Meat is an enormously popular restaurant, where diners first line up at a display case to select indulgently from mounds of beef, lamb and chicken, their choices then collected in a metal tub, rolled in seasoning and finally grilled over an open fire. Diners often spend hours gnawing away.

“This is a safe community, though of course it depends on where you are walking and what time of day you are doing it,” said Mzoli Ngcawuzele, the restaurant’s owner.
Actually, 713 murders have been committed in Guguletu in the past five years — about one every two and a half days, according to the police. Nationwide, an average of 46 murders occurred each day last year, a drop of 8.6 per cent from the year before but still among the world’s highest rates.

In the avalanche of publicity surrounding the Honeymoon Murder, one enterprising newspaper, ‘The Cape Argus’, sent reporters into the field to see if they could hire their own hit men. Three willing killers were lined up within hours.

If the chauffeur’s confession is to be believed, then Shrien Dewani overpaid by offering $2,200. A third of that would have been enough, the reporters found.

(Published 17 December 2010, 16:36 IST)

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