Dewani 'accomplice' was prepared to lie, says judge

2014-12-08 11:09

The only accomplice witness in Shrien Dewani’s murder trial was prepared to lie to create an atmosphere of suspicion around him, Western Cape High Court deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso said today. She said former shuttle taxi driver Zola Tongo’s testimony was riddled with contradictions and he did not hesitate to change his evidence as needed. “His evidence and version of events he gave is also highly improbable, but having said that, at this stage of the proceedings, his credibility plays a limited role.” Traverso was reading out her judgment in an application to have Dewani discharged of the killing of his wife. Dewani went on trial in October for allegedly plotting with Tongo and others to kill his wife Anni while they were on honeymoon on Cape Town in November 2010.

This morning, Traverso read case law to set out the history and scope of discharge applications. Referring to the five charges against the British man, she said it was crucial for the state’s case to prove that he entered into an agreement with others to have his wife Anni killed in 2010.

Failing that, there would be nothing linking him to the crimes.

An accused was entitled to be discharged if there was no possibility of conviction unless he entered the witness box and incriminated himself.

His shuttle taxi driver at the time, Zola Tongo, was the only accomplice witness.

“It is trite that court should approach evidence of accomplice witness with caution,” said Traverso.

She said his version needed to be corroborated specifically where it implicated the accused.

Details such as where he picked up and dropped off Dewani and his wife did not provide corroboration for Tongo.

“It is what was said during these events which is an issue and for that there is only the version of Tongo.” She said the same applied to the telephonic communication.

“This telephone communication does not in itself corroborate what was said during those calls, it merely confirms that communication took place.”

Dewani paid attention as Traverso spoke and shook his head when the charges were read out.

The courtroom was packed with local and foreign journalists. A few people had to stand in the public gallery because there was no space left.

A single television camera stood to the left of the dock, and would provide feed as part of a pool arrangement.

Dewani’s legal team brought the discharge application in terms of section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Act, opening the way for a discharge if the court believes there is no credible evidence at the close of the state’s case.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges including kidnapping, murder and defeating the ends of justice.

He claims the couple was hijacked while Tongo drove them through Gugulethu in his minibus on Saturday, November 13 2010.

Dewani was released unharmed and Anni was driven away. She was found shot dead in the abandoned minibus in Khayelitsha the next morning.

The state alleges he conspired with others to stage the hijacking, for which he paid R15 000.

He maintains that Tongo helped him organise a surprise helicopter trip for Anni for R15 000.

Tongo is serving an 18-year jail term and Qwabe, a 25-year jail term. Mngeni was serving life in jail for firing the shot that killed Anni, but died in prison from a brain tumour on October 18.

Hotel receptionist Monde Mbolombo was granted immunity from prosecution on two charges during Mngeni’s trial, but was warned he faced possible prosecution on various charges if he did not testify truthfully during Dewani’s trial.

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