British didn't think Shrien Dewani would appear in SA court

2014-10-07 21:44
Shrien Dewani (Picture: AP)

Shrien Dewani (Picture: AP)

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Cape Town - Many Britons believed Shrien Dewani’s trial would never take place in South Africa. For three years, he battled extradition from the UK and he has been dogged by mental health concerns.

Yet the long-awaited trial opened in Cape Town on Monday, with the 34-year-old formally pleading not guilty to murdering his wife Anni on their honeymoon in Cape Town in 2010.

Anni’s family, who has flown to Cape Town for the trial, say that they are unable to start grieving for their daughter until they know the truth about what happened.

As the Western Cape High Court seeks answers, what does the UK think? Here are some views:

The trial had an 'unexpected start'

The BBC had expected the first day of the case to be “dominated by minor squabbles, bureaucratic issues, and the opening of the prosecution’s case”.

But, as Africa correspondent Andrew Harding noted, the proceedings were immediately “hijacked” by a 37-page "plea explanation" outlining Dewani's story.

It was an opening gambit that “no one was quite prepared for”, said the Bristol Post - Dewani’s local newspaper.

For the first time, the millionaire businessman laid out intimate details of his luxurious lifestyle and bisexual activities - putting an end to the fierce speculation over his sexuality.

It may have been a clever move

The details of Dewani’s double life exploded on to the pages of the UK’s newspapers: A private jet and proposal in Paris, a stag party in Las Vegas, an expensive wedding in Mumbai - alongside drug-fuelled gay sex and liaisons with male prostitutes.

Dewani’s life was revealed in court with “uncomfortable detail” said The Guardian.

But it could have been “a clever move”, said the BBC.

The prosecution was - and is - expected to suggest that Dewani's marriage to Anni was a sham - due to previously unconfirmed rumours of gay tendencies - and that he arranged her murder to get out of the relationship.

“This frank, unprompted admission has clearly taken away much of [the prosecution’s] sting”, said Harding.

The seeds of doubt have been sown

Dewani revealed his bisexuality alongside details of a turbulent relationship with Anni, adding that they were “headstrong” people who frequently argued - but who were in love and planning a future together.

He also revealed that the pair had broken up twice in their 18-month relationship.

This means that Dewani’s version “sows the first, early seeds of reasonable doubt”, Harding argues - that no one knows the inside of a relationship, as Judge Thokosile Masipa ruled in the Oscar Pistorius case.

But it could all hinge on the German, or Tongo

Dewani admitted to having “sexual interactions” with men and women in his statement, including the male prostitute Leopold Leisser.

Known as the German Master, Leisser is a prostitute who allegedly took part in drug-fuelled sex sessions a few months before the Dewanis wedding.

According to The Daily Mail, Dewani begged Leisser to humiliate and racially abuse him.

Dewani is also said to have told the prostitute he was due to marry a “lovely girl” but could not break off the engagement because he would be “disowned by his family”.

The trial could then hinge on Leisser’s evidence, the Huffington Post argues.

The BBC however, thinks Dewani’s fate could hinge on the cross-examination of Dewani’s taxi driver, Zola Tongo.

Tongo has already confessed and been convicted for his role in the murder, but if he changes his story it could “unravel” the prosecution’s well-planned case.

It’s similar to Oscar’s case

Dewani’s case continually draws comparisons with the trial of Oscar Pistorius.

Both accused of murdering their beautiful partners, the two men underwent psychological evaluations at the same time in the run up to their high profile trials - just weeks apart.

The families of both women suffered from the same “tortured gaze” in their eyes as the details of their daughter’s death unravelled, said The Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper.

“Like June Steenkamp, the images of her [Nilam Hindocha’s] daughter’s body on show to everybody inside the Western Cape Court were to prove too much and she had to leave.”

And like the Steenkamps, Anni’s family, the Hindochas, have said they are at the trial because they want to know the truth about what happened to their daughter.

What’s more, just as Pistorius submitted a personal statement, Dewani’s case has begun with unexpected submission of his version of events.

But what initially may seem a clever defence ploy, said the BBC, may “come back to haunt Mr Dewani in the same way Oscar Pistorius was widely criticised for his own detailed bail application statement”.

The Daily Mail has previously warned that much of the evidence neither convicts nor exonerates Dewani, but rather shows that what happened “might not be as clear-cut as first appears”.

This brings it back to “reasonable doubt”, and as the BBC agrees, the onus remains on the prosecution to show that Dewani's version of events cannot reasonably, possibly be true.

Read more on:    anni hindocha  |  oscar pistorius  |  cape town  |  crime  |  dewani trial  |  media  |  pistorius trial

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