Dewani defence pokes holes in Tongo's testimony

2014-10-30 20:23
Shrien Dewani in court. (AP)

Shrien Dewani in court. (AP)

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Cape Town - The State's case in the Shrien Dewani murder trial is looking increasingly fragile, as its key witness, taxi driver Zola Tongo, continues to admit mistakes and inconsistencies during cross-examination.

Tongo returned to the witness stand for the fourth day on Thursday, facing gruelling and detailed cross-examination from Dewani's defence team led by senior counsel Advocate Francois van Zyl. Tongo is serving an 18-year sentence for his role in the murder of Dewani's wife, Anni Hindocha, in an allegedly staged hijacking during their honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010.

Tongo has previously testified that he met the newly-weds at the airport and transported them to the Cape Grace Hotel. Dewani later asked him if he could do a job for him, which involved the killing of his business partner - this later turned out to be his wife. He then contacted his friend Monde Mbolombo who arranged the hitmen to carry out the job.

'Everyone makes mistakes'

On Wednesday, Tongo had admitted a number of mistakes in his first statement given to police in November 2010, as well as his plea bargain statement and testimony. He explained to the court that he'd been under stress at the time he was relating events to the police and certain facts had come back to him now that he was calmer, four years later.

"Everyone makes mistakes," seems to be a standard response from Tongo, who grew increasingly agitated and stubborn in the face of Van Zyl's relentless questioning.

At the start of proceedings on Thursday, Van Zyl read out a portion of Tongo's statement to police in which he said hitmen Xolile Mngeni and Mziwamadoda Qwabe didn't introduce themselves to him - but Tongo said this was a mistake, seemingly blaming police for writing down parts of the statement incorrectly.

Tongo also couldn't explain to the court exactly when he and Dewani agreed upon his fee of R5 000 for arranging the hit - despite this clearly forming an important part of his decision to assist Dewani. Tongo admitted he wouldn't have continued had it not been for the money - and promises of further business in the future.

Van Zyl continued to grill Tongo on the issue of payment, questioning him on exactly how the payment was agreed upon, how the accomplices would be paid, and how they would share it between themselves. Tongo repeated that he did not know how middleman Mbolombo's payment would be arranged, as that was between him and the hitmen.

However, Tongo later conceded he and Mbolombo may have discussed payment, and been in contact after the murder to discuss this.

Tongo also denied that he'd mentioned the fact that Dewani wanted his wife killed to Mbolombo - but Van Zyl pointed out that Mbolombo's statement clearly said the man wanted his wife killed. Tongo repeated that he only knew Anni was the wife the day after the murder.

CCTV footage

Van Zyl later introduced three clips of CCTV footage, as well as a detailed timeline of events based on CCTV and cellphone records, to demonstrate further inconsistencies in Tongo's earlier statements and testimony.

Tongo claimed he agreed to meet Dewani at the hotel at about 11:00 on the morning of the murder to take him to exchange money, but the footage showed the couple walking to a late breakfast at 11:13. Tongo also claimed Dewani called him to find out where he was, but Van Zyl pointed out that no such call was made, and that Dewani had in fact forgotten about the meeting until Tongo reminded him.

Tongo had also claimed he and Dewani had discussed the murder plans after returning from exchanging money, but the CCTV footage showed his vehicle pulling up outside the hotel and Dewani getting out immediately. Tongo then said he and Dewani had spoken while travelling.

Van Zyl then questioned Tongo about the plans for the Saturday evening, and why he took them to a restaurant in Strand when "Plan A" (meeting the hitmen in Gugulethu) had failed. He pleaded ignorance when Van Zyl pointed out that Dewani and Anni had in fact made a booking at a restaurant in the nearby winelands.

It seems unlikely the couple would have dressed up smartly and organised transport had they not had plans to dine somewhere, which casts doubt on Tongo's assertion that it was his idea to take them to the restaurant. Van Zyl pointed out that Dewani agreed to pay Tongo R1 000 to transport them to the restaurant - incidentally the same amount Dewani was later seen handing over to him in the hotel.

As all these inconsistencies emerged in court, it seemed increasingly unlikely that Tongo's testimony (as well as earlier statements and plea agreement) could be considered entirely credible and reliable - leading observers to wonder exactly what the prosecution has up its sleeve next, if its key witness is discredited.

The mood in the prosecution's bench seems a lot less confident than it was in April, when Dewani was finally extradited from the UK after a lengthy and costly legal battle, because the State believed it had a "watertight case".

Read more on:    zola tongo  |  anni hindocha  |  shrien dewani  |  cape town  |  dewani trial

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