The Honeymoon Murder
Young love turns tragic as a brutal carjacking leaves a beautiful newlywed murdered—and her husband the prime suspect.
The township of Khayelitsha sits on the southeastern outskirts of Cape Town, in the middle of the Cape Flats, a dust bowl of nearly 200 square miles hemmed in by the Table Mountain range to the west, the Hottentot-Holland range to the east, and the coast of False Bay to the south. It is the fastest-growing township in South Africa and also one of the poorest, made up largely of shanties assembled from discarded materials—cardboard, tar paper, scraps of tin and plywood—and squeezed together amid the sand dunes. Outsiders rarely venture into Khayelitsha at night, which meant that, from the moment at about 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 13, 2010 when a 33-year-old government employee named Simbonile Matokazi found the foreigner standing on his doorstep, it was clear that something had gone very wrong.
The man pacing back and forth at the threshold was wearing an expensive-looking dark suit over an open-collared shirt. He was Indian, not black like Matokazi and virtually everyone else in Khayelitsha. He had been stumbling down the sandy road knocking frantically on doors, moving from one shack to the next in the darkness. “Excuse me,” he said. “Is there a nearby police station where I can report a hijack?”
Matokazi, reaching for his phone, asked where the car was. The visibly distraught stranger mumbled that he didn’t know. He was similarly uncertain about its model. By the time the officers from the South African Police Service arrived, however, he had regained enough composure to tell his story.
His name was Shrien Dewani, and he was a 30-year-old businessman from Bristol, England. He and his wife of three weeks, Anni Dewani, had arrived in Cape Town on the previous day for their honeymoon. Earlier that evening, the couple had embarked with a driver on a private tour of the townships east of the city. It was an unusual choice for a pair of well-heeled tourists; Cape Town’s outlying slums might as well have been on another planet from the Cape Grace, the $500-a-night waterfront hotel where the Dewanis had spent the first night of their visit.
At about 10:45 p.m., the Dewanis’ driver had stopped at an intersection in a township about seven miles west of Khayelitsha. Suddenly, two armed men appeared out of the darkness and commandeered the vehicle. A short time later, they forced the driver out. For 45 minutes they drove through the night, Shrien told the police, as he and Anni huddled in terror in the backseat. Finally, the hijackers came to a stop on a sandy road. They threw Shrien out of the car and sped off with his wife.
The police escorted Shrien back to the Cape Grace, and scores of officers began a methodical search of the townships. Early the following morning, the police received a call from a resident of Elitha Park, a neighborhood in Khayelitsha not far from Matokazi’s house. A gray Volkswagen Sharan minivan had been sitting alongside the road all night, she told them, on an asphalt strip bordering a weed-choked field.
It was about eight o’clock in the morning when police converged on the minivan. As wind whipped sand off a nearby sweep of dunes, the officers opened the rear right-side door and peered in. Lying across the backseat was the body of a young woman, soaked in blood. She had been shot once, at point-blank range, in the neck. The bullet, from a nine-millimeter pistol, was lodged in the seat. Her blood had soaked through the upholstery and seeped out the door, pooling on the asphalt.
In the hours after Anni Dewani’s corpse was discovered, police forensic experts descended upon Khayelitsha. The crime scene yielded one particularly valuable piece of evidence: a thumbprint and fingerprint recovered from the left fender of the minivan. The investigators quickly traced them to a 26-year-old unemployed laborer named Xolile Mngeni. Mngeni had been arrested five years earlier on suspicion of killing a man in a bar fight; the charges were dropped, but his fingerprints had remained in the national police database.
The police found Mngeni, a thin man who wore a gold ring in his right ear, in a shack near his grandmother’s small home in Khayelitsha, a few hundred yards from the field where the Volkswagen had been abandoned. Mngeni was lying in bed, with a man and two women, after a night of partying. The police rousted him out of bed, read him his rights, and arrested him. Searching the shack, they found a cell phone wedged between the mattress and bed frame. “Who does this cell phone belong to?” one of the investigators asked, according to a court affidavit.
“It belongs to the taxi driver,” Mngeni replied.
Early in the evening on October 19, 2010, three and a half weeks earlier, 300 guests gathered on the lawn overlooking Powai Lake, a Raj-era reservoir in the hills outside Mumbai. Under a full moon, Anni Dewani’s uncle, brother, and two cousins carried her down the path on a golden sedan chair, poles resting on their shoulders. She had never looked more beautiful, thought Ami Denborg, her older sister.
Anni wore an emerald green bridal sari swathed in gold brocade. Gold and silver bangles adorned her wrists, and a gold and jade necklace hung around her neck. She stepped down from the sedan chair and walked to the mandap, a canopied, carved-teakwood platform garlanded with mango and banana leaves, palm fronds, and coconuts. Shrien was waiting for her there, in his beige wedding suit and turban, behind a curtain held up by two of his male friends.
Vinod Hindocha, Anni’s father, looked on proudly. The son of a prosperous trader who had left India’s Gujarat state as a young man, Vinod had grown up in Uganda, a member of the country’s close-knit Indian community. He was 23 years old in 1972, when President Idi Amin gave Ugandans of South Asian descent 90 days to leave the country, declaring, “We are determined to make the ordinary Ugandan the master of his own destiny, and above all to see that he enjoys the wealth of his country.” The Hindocha family fled and settled in the small town of Mariestad, Sweden. Vinod had thrived there, starting a business and raising two daughters and a son. He had hoped his children would think of themselves as Indian even as they lived their lives far from the subcontinent, as he had, and he insisted that they speak Gujarati around the house. He was thrilled that Anni had decided to be married in Mumbai—that she had decided, as Vinod would later put it, that “her heart was in India.”
Anni was 28, a bright, outgoing, and delicately beautiful young woman. Vinod knew he had spoiled his youngest daughter, but he couldn’t help himself. When she moved to Stockholm after graduating from college, to work in marketing for the mobile-phone maker Ericsson, her father bought her a new Volvo and a one-bedroom apartment in a tony neighborhood of the city. When she ordered thousands of dollars’ worth of hardwood flooring ripped out of the apartment after deciding she didn’t like the color, Vinod paid for it. Anni wanted every aspect of her life to be perfect, and Vinod wanted to help her.
When she began looking for a husband, in her mid-twenties, Anni pursued the project with the same deliberateness and precision that she had brought to bear on her interior decorating. She flew regularly to London, where she stayed at the homes of wealthy relatives—her maternal uncles owned the British pharmacy chain Waremoss—and spent weekends shopping and socializing. She had made up her mind that her husband would be Indian, and London offered better prospects than Stockholm.
One of Anni’s aunts had noticed Shrien Dewani at parties in London and liked his clean-cut good looks, his wealth, and his pedigree. A mutual acquaintance provided the aunt with his phone number, and she arranged an informal run-in between him and Anni at a coffee bar. The pair hit it off, and in September 2009 they went on their first date, to a performance of The Lion King in London’s West End. After another meeting—dinner at the Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel—Anni called her sister in a state of excitement. “I met a guy,” she told Ami, “and I’m going to meet him again.”
Their lives were practically mirror images of each other. Shrien Dewani’s family, like Anni’s, was Gujarati, and his mother and her parents had fled Amin’s Uganda for England. Shrien’s father had arrived there from Kenya—where his own family had immigrated from Gujarat state—to study pharmacology, later opening a pharmacy in Bristol and a nursing home that grew into a chain of health care facilities for the elderly. Shrien graduated from an elite preparatory school in Bristol and studied accounting at the University of Manchester, then spent several months teaching English and mathematics in Accra, Ghana, before moving to London to work for the accounting firm Deloitte. Within a year, however, he had left to help manage the fast-growing family business, PSP Healthcare, with his older brother, Preyen. Before his 30th birthday, Shrien was already a millionaire.
Shrien, like Anni, was gregarious and popular. Some people found him to be a show-off, the kind of affluent young man who seemed a little too enamored with his money. But beneath the flashy facade, his close friends saw a kind and generous person with a good sense of humor. This was what Anni liked most about Shrien, her sister would later recall: the way she could laugh and joke with him, the way he cared for and tried to protect her. A few months into their relationship, Anni was smitten. In February 2010, she gave up her job in Stockholm and moved into an apartment in Luton, north of London.
That spring, Anni’s parents traveled to Bristol to meet Shrien’s parents, who were staying in an apartment they owned in the city. When the Hindochas arrived, a fleet of BMWs, Mercedes, and Porsches, all with vanity license plates, were parked out front. It was the first time that Vinod realized the full extent of the Dewani family’s fortune. He was a bit intimidated by the display of wealth, but the Dewanis were warm and enthusiastic, and they quickly put Vinod and his wife, Nilam, at ease, taking them on a long tour of Bristol. The visit sealed Vinod’s approval of the relationship.
Shortly thereafter, Shrien took Anni to an airfield outside Bristol, where a private plane was waiting to fly them to Paris. That night at the restaurant in the Hotel Ritz, a waiter presented her with a silver platter. On it was a $40,000 diamond engagement ring balanced on a red rose.
Vinod promised his daughter a lavish wedding. “Anni, do whatever you want to,” he said. The Hindochas were not wealthy like the Dewanis were, but Vinod had been saving for his daughters’ nuptials since they were born. Ami’s wedding in Mariestad had been a grand affair, but Anni wanted something even bigger, and the Dewanis had agreed to cover a third of the cost.
The morning after the wedding, Anni ran into her sister in the lobby of Mumbai’s Renaissance Hotel. Ami was flying back to Sweden; Shrien and Anni were returning to London for two weeks before embarking on their honeymoon. When Ami asked where the newly married couple were heading, Anni laughed. Shrien had made plans, she told her sister, but he was being vague about the destination. She gave Ami a warm, lingering hug and kissed her two children. “I’ll call you when I get back,” she said.
Shrien and Anni arrived at Cape Town International Airport from Johannesburg on the evening of Friday, November 12. Four days of game watching in Kruger National Park had left them exhilarated but tired, and standing outside the arrival gate with their designer luggage, Shrien looked for a taxi. He caught the attention of a driver with a Volkswagen Sharan minivan.
Zola Tongo was a squat, powerfully built man with a chubby face and an ingratiating manner. A 31-year-old former insurance consultant and building inspector, he had recently taken a full-time job as a limousine driver for a Cape Town tour company. But the demands of supporting his mother—a cleaning woman—and his 14-year-old sister, in addition to his wife and five children, weighed on him. He had started freelancing with the company minivan in his off hours, which was what had brought him to the airport that night.
Cape Town’s airport, which had been expensively remodeled into a sleek and soaring contemporary terminal in anticipation of the previous summer’s World Cup, was about a 20-minute drive on the N2 highway from the Cape Grace hotel. Like the airport, the hotel was an icon of the image that post-apartheid South Africa sought to present to the world: a handsome, five-story brick and stone building with a red-tile mansard roof rising over a private marina. The Cape Grace was the centerpiece of a 1990s urban-redevelopment scheme that had transformed Cape Town’s seedy docks into the slickly commercial Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Under soft track lighting, guests relaxed in leather armchairs beside Zanzibar chests and looked out through French windows upon a quay lined with yawls and sloops. The Spirit of the Cape, a 56-foot luxury motor yacht, was moored alongside the hotel’s dock.
The drive to the hotel, however, was an object lesson in South Africa’s contradictions. Cape Town’s airport sits in the middle of the Cape Flats, on the barren periphery of the city. After South Africa’s Parliament passed the Group Areas Act in 1950, barring nonwhites from living within the municipal limits of Cape Town and other cities, Cape Town’s black and mixed-race populations were forced out of the city’s older, established neighborhoods on the slopes of Table Mountain and into newly formed townships on the scrubland of the Cape Flats. The better-off among them built brick and cinderblock bungalows on the tiny plots they were given. Others packed into densely populated squatter camps of cardboard shacks, lacking electricity, water, or sewers. Over the years, as migrants from even more destitute rural areas converged upon the townships, the Cape Flats’ population came to surpass that of the city proper.
The townships’ poverty outlived the apartheid government that had ordered them into existence. Cape Town’s tourist industry, however, had found a way to make use of them: In a local variation on Rio de Janeiro’s popular favela tours, adventurous travelers, accompanied by local guides, began traveling into Gugulethu, a half-century-old township that was home to about 200,000 people and had once been a center of anti-apartheid resistance. Visitors would tour historic sites and eat at Mzoli’s, a barbecue joint that British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver featured on the cover of his magazine in 2009, declaring it to be “totally sexy.”
After dark, however, the visitors returned to the wealthy districts of Cape Town; Mzoli’s closes at 7 p.m. For all its allure as a tourist destination, Cape Town is still one of the world’s most violent cities, with an unflagging epidemic of murder, rape, carjacking, assault, and home invasion. Gugulethu alone averaged more than 140 murders a year, roughly one every two and a half days. Tongo drove past it without stopping.
Before Tongo took leave of the Dewanis at the hotel, Shrien made plans for the driver to pick them up the following night for dinner. The couple spent most of the next day by the hotel pool. By the time Tongo arrived, at 7:30 p.m., a balmy and clear evening had settled over the waterfront. Shrien and Anni climbed into the backseat of the minivan, and Tongo steered back onto the N2 the way they had come the day before.
Shrien had asked the hotel concierge to make a reservation at 96 Winery Road, one of the Western Cape province’s most acclaimed restaurants, in the Helderberg Valley, a lush sweep of vineyards about 30 miles east of Cape Town, past the airport. On the way to the restaurant, however, Shrien and Anni decided that they weren’t in the mood for a full meal. If the newlyweds were interested in lighter fare, Tongo offered, he knew of a more downscale restaurant that had good Asian food. He pulled off the highway around 9:15 p.m. and onto a two-lane side road that wound through the swampy lowlands toward the coast.
The Surfside Restaurant was located in the resort town of Strand, a 30-minute drive southeast of Cape Town, a faded riviera of high-rise hotels and condominiums with back alleys full of casinos and strip clubs tucked away just off the beach. Nobody would’ve mistaken the dining room where the Dewanis were seated, with its green carpet and tacky tropical fish tank, for 96 Winery Road. But the large windows offered a sweeping view of the sea, and after dining on curry and sushi, the newlyweds strolled along the beach. At about 10:15 p.m., they climbed back into Tongo’s van, and he turned back onto the N2, heading toward Cape Town.
The plan, Shrien would later tell a reporter, had been to retire to the Waterfront district for a drink. “But Anni grew up in Sweden, and she felt as if the area around this hotel was just like at home: so clean and safe, a bit sterile,” Shrien said. She wanted to see “the real Africa.” So at Borcherd’s Quarry Road, just before the airport, Tongo veered onto the exit ramp.
The minivan turned down Klipfontein Road and made a right onto Gugulethu’s deserted main avenue, NY 112. (NY is short for “Native Yards,” an apartheid-era designation for a township which remains in use.) At an intersection beside an apostolic church and a primary school, Tongo halted at a stop sign. Suddenly, Shrien looked up and saw a man hammering on the windshield with a pistol, hard enough that Shrien thought that the glass would break. The next thing he knew, a man had shoved Tongo into the passenger seat and taken the wheel. Another man with a gun piled into the backseat with Shrien and Anni.
The Volkswagen peeled away from the intersection, bouncing along the rough asphalt. At a gas station, as Shrien recalled it, the two men pulled to the curb and forced Tongo out of the minivan. Then they got back onto the N2 and headed away from Cape Town, deeper into the Cape Flats. They sped down the highway for seven minutes, turning off at Khayelitsha. The hijackers drove around for 10 more minutes before the driver stopped the car. “Voetsek, voetsek! Get out, get out!” the two men shouted at Shrien.
The couple begged the hijackers not to separate them. “But they were so cold,” Shrien later recalled in a newspaper interview. “They put a gun in my ear and pulled back the trigger—it really was the stuff of movies.” Shrien held on to Anni. “Look, if you’re not going to hurt her,” he told the hijackers, “let us go.” Instead, they forced Shrien out of the vehicle and sped off into the night, Anni alone with the gunman in the backseat.
At about 11 p.m. on Saturday night, the phone rang at the Hindocha house in Sweden. Vinod answered; it was Prakash Dewani, Shrien’s father, calling from Bristol. He had just talked to Shrien. “Anni’s been kidnapped,” he said.
Vinod tried to stay calm. “Don’t worry,” he told Prakash. “We will sort out something. We’ll go to South Africa and pay them what they want, and we will get her free.”
A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time it was Shrien, calling from the Cape Grace. “Dad,” he said, his voice breaking, “I could not take care of your daughter.”
Vinod began to panic. “Don’t say those words,” he begged his son-in-law. “Why are you saying you could not?”
“Dad,” he repeated, “I could not take care of her.”
“You take it easy,” Vinod said. “I am on my way down there.”
The next morning, Vinod caught the first flight from Gothenburg. As soon as he stepped off the plane in Amsterdam, he switched on his mobile phone, but he was so distracted that he couldn’t remember the security code to unlock it. He ran through the terminal, found a public telephone, and called home. Nilam picked up. Vinod heard sobbing in the background. He sank to the floor.
I first met Vinod Hindocha on a gray and freezing afternoon in December at the Stadt Hotel, which his brother Ashok owns, in downtown Mariestad. He is 64 years old, with thinning black hair, an angular face, and large ears. When I met him, two years after his daughter’s death, he still appeared haggard and listless. He led me to his Mercedes, and we drove through the quiet streets of the town. Sleet battered the windshield—a foretaste of winter, when temperatures in Mariestad drop to 20 below. We skirted Lake Vänern, the third-largest lake in Europe, where Anni’s ashes had been scattered a year earlier.
When Vinod fled Uganda with his parents and three siblings in 1972, he told me, the family left behind everything they owned, arriving in Europe with just 55 British pounds to their name. Their first stop was a refugee camp in Austria, where they lived for months in a tent, until Sweden offered to take them in. Vinod found work near Mariestad as an electrical maintenance engineer in a chemical factory. He met Nilam, also a refugee from Uganda, on a visit to London, and they married four years later.
Shortly before the couple’s third child was born, in 1988, Vinod cofounded his own engineering firm. Soon it was thriving, with a dozen employees and contracts to manufacture electronic components for oil-exploration projects in the North Sea, Venezuela, and Russia. He bought a three-story house with a garden, a Jacuzzi and sauna in the basement, and a separate wing for tenants. Mariestad, with its 15,000-odd inhabitants, 18th-century cathedral, and quaint harbor, was the very image of stability. It was a place where Vinod could shield his children from the deprivations and dislocations that he had known.
The Hindochas’ house is tidy, with high ceilings and utilitarian Scandinavian furniture, the walls covered with framed photographs of Anni. Vinod took me upstairs to Anni’s bedroom, on the second floor, a small space with beige-yellow walls, full-length mirrors, and hardwood floors that he and Anni—particular even as a teenager—had installed themselves. Above the single bed was a large portrait of Anni in her wedding dress, a wedding gift from a friend. “Anni never got to see it,” Vinod told me. Underneath the portrait was an oil painting of a single rose. It had been given to Vinod by a stranger, a man who sold art from a stall at the Cape Town airport. “He hands me this painting, wrapped,” Vinod recalled, “and he says, ‘This is from me to Anni. Keep it in her room.’”
Nilam was puttering around the kitchen, making herself scarce. Vinod had told me earlier that she was recovering from stomach cancer and remained too shaken by the murder to speak about it. “Anni’s destiny was that her life lasted just 28 years,” Vinod said, settling on the living room sofa. “Everybody has to die. But the way she went is not acceptable, it is not right. Nobody should go through what we are going through.”
On that Sunday morning in November 2010, Vinod met Prakash Dewani at the gate in the Amsterdam airport for the flight to Cape Town. The two men embraced; Shrien’s father had also just learned of Anni’s death, and he was weeping. A flight attendant gently escorted Vinod onto the plane and brought him a glass of water. He passed the 11-hour flight to South Africa in a daze, crying and leaning on Prakash for support.
Over the year that he had known them, Vinod’s relationship with the Dewani family had acquired an easy familiarity. When Anni first told her father about Shrien in the fall of 2009—“He is sending me flowers at work every day,” she told him—Vinod reached across the Gujarati diaspora network to look into the young man’s background. An aunt in Nairobi vouched for the Dewanis; they were a good family, she said. Like the Hindochas, the Dewanis were Lohanas, members of the Indian merchant caste. When Shrien first visited the Hindochas, in November 2009, Vinod and Nilam were struck by how handsome he was, and they were moved when he knelt down and touched their feet in a gesture of humility and respect.
Still, Anni was concerned that her parents would find fault with one aspect of Shrien: She was not his first fiancée. Three years earlier, when Shrien was 26, he had proposed to Rani Kansagra, the daughter of the multimillionaire founder of the Indian budget airline SpiceJet. The couple announced their engagement with an extravagant party in London. Months later, however, Shrien abruptly called things off. A close friend of his attributed it, vaguely, to “petty family squabbles.” Wanting to clear the air, Anni had urged her father to have Shrien explain what had happened.
Vinod and Shrien drove to Lake Vanërn and walked along a rocky beach in the cold. “Dad, you can ask me anything about my personal life you want,” Shrien told him, already addressing him as his father-in-law. Vinod chose not to bring up the touchy subject. Anni and Shrien seemed to be getting along fine, and he had no desire to stir things up by prying into his prospective son-in-law’s past. “Look, Shrien,” he said. “I don’t want to know about your background. I just want to know, do you love my Anni? I am happy with that. All I want is for you two to be happy.”
Shrien told him that, indeed, he loved Anni very much. “I’ll take care of her,” he said. When the two men returned to the house, Anni asked her father how it had gone. “Go ahead,” Vinod replied. “He is a good boy.”
Diplomats from the Swedish and British Embassies, along with the police, met Vinod and Prakash at the airport and brought them to the Cape Grace. It was after midnight before Vinod saw Shrien. He hugged his son-in-law tightly, but Shrien seemed distant. “Everything will be fine,” Vinod told him, though he knew it wouldn’t; he was so shattered himself that he was barely aware of his surroundings. The two men said little to each other.
The next day, Vinod told Shrien that he was going to the morgue to view his daughter’s body. “Dad, you cannot see her today,” Vinod said Shrien told him. “She is all drained out. We have to pump liquid into her body to get her freshened up.” The comment struck Vinod as oddly cold-hearted, but he put it out of his mind. By now, Shrien and his father were mostly keeping to themselves. Shrien was busy all the time on his laptop, making funeral arrangements and communicating with his friends in Bristol and London.
On Tuesday morning, Vinod at last made plans to go to the morgue and asked Shrien to join him. “I can’t come,” his son-in-law replied, according to Vinod. Vinod assumed that Shrien wanted to grieve alone in the hotel. Later, he told me, he learned that Shrien had in fact gone to get a haircut and buy a new suit. At the time, however, Vinod was unable to think of much beyond his own heartache. He went to the morgue that morning without Shrien, escorted by the police, to identity his daughter.
The following day, Vinod, Prakash, and Shrien flew to Bristol with Anni’s body to prepare for the funeral. And back in Cape Town, police officers knocked on a door in Khayelitsha, in search of their first suspect.
The most elite police force in South Africa is the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, also known as the Hawks, a special squad created in 2009 by the African National Congress–led government. The Hawks were responsible for investigating corruption, organized crime, and other high-profile cases. A murder in the Cape Flats, which sees more than 1,000 of them each year, would not ordinarily have been in their brief. But Western Cape province relies on tourism for nearly a tenth of its economy, and the authorities weren’t about to let the murder of a wealthy foreign visitor go uninvestigated.
The plainclothes police who went looking for Xolile Mngeni, the man whose fingerprints had been lifted from Zola Tongo’s minivan, on November 16 were led by Captain Paul Hendrikse, a 25-year veteran of the force. An Afrikaner with the archetypal trim build and close-cropped, thinning hair of a middle-aged cop, Hendrikse had been involved in a number of headline-grabbing cases in recent years and was regarded as one of Cape Town’s foremost investigators. Vinod Hindocha, who has met with him regularly over the past two years, describes him as “a very sharp, very confident guy.”
According to Hendrikse’s account in an affidavit he later provided to a West Cape court—he has never spoken to the media about the case—the detective had wondered from the beginning if the incident might be something more than an ordinary carjacking gone wrong. Why, for instance, had the Dewanis ridden from the airport with Tongo rather than the Cape Grace hotel car service? And why on earth would they have ventured into one of Cape Town’s most dangerous townships after dark? Surely even the most naive tourists knew better.
Mngeni confessed his involvement in the killing almost immediately. He told the police that he had had an accomplice, a man he called Mawewe. The officers drove him around to a half-dozen shacks in the township to find the man. When the search came up empty, they brought Mngeni to the Hawks’ headquarters in the northern suburb of Bellville. A lieutenant colonel took Mngeni into his office and interrogated him for several hours while other detectives continued the search for Mawewe.
They found him two days later. His name was actually Mziwamadoda Lennox Qwabe, and he was Mngeni’s neighbor, a baby-faced 26-year-old with a shaved scalp and a slight physique. After his arrest, Qwabe, too, quickly admitted to his role in the murder and offered further details about the crime. Then, on November 20, as 1,500 guests were gathering in a London concert hall for Anni’s memorial service, the police issued a warrant for a third suspect. It was the Dewanis’ driver, Zola Robert Tongo.
On November 22, Tongo was escorted into the Wynberg Magistrates’ Court, a brutish five-story brick building in Cape Town’s southern suburbs. His face was hidden by a white sheet draped over his body, down to his tennis-shoe-clad feet. The prosecutor, Rodney de Kock, announced that Tongo was likely to enter a plea bargain and receive a lenient sentence in exchange for information in the case.
Shortly after Anni’s murder, Shrien Dewani had told a reporter in Cape Town that at first he had suspected that Tongo was involved in the crime. “But he spent all of Sunday helping the police and was able to answer all the police’s questions,” he said. “By the end of it, I quite liked him.” Now back in London, Shrien told the Evening Standard that he felt “betrayed.”
But Vinod Hindocha wondered. From the beginning, his elderly mother had insisted that Shrien’s story didn’t quite add up. Vinod had angrily rebuked her. “Don’t say those words,” he said. Ami Denborg, too, had stuck up for Shrien. She had always liked and respected him and felt sorry for him because of what he had been through.
Little things, however, had started to eat at Vinod. Shrien had hosted a pizza party the night before the funeral, which Vinod found disturbingly inappropriate. He had quarreled with Ami over who would dress Anni’s body for the funeral and then blocked her from speaking at the memorial service. Then his family had hired Max Clifford—a well-known London press agent who had once worked for Marvin Gaye and Marlon Brando but in recent decades had mostly represented celebrities’ jilted paramours, disgraced politicians, and other tabloid regulars—to handle the press. Shrien’s brother Preyen demanded that the Hindochas sign an agreement not to comment to the media about the case without consulting Clifford first. Vinod refused.
By this point, a week and a half after Anni’s death, Shrien had recounted the events to several newspapers, and Vinod had noticed inconsistencies between the stories. In his first interview after the attack, Shrien had told a reporter for the Daily Mail that it was Anni’s idea to visit the township. But in an interview with the Sun the following week, he said that it had been Tongo’s idea to take the side trip, to “see some African dancing,” and that the Dewanis had been skeptical about the plan. At first, Shrien had said he was thrown out the vehicle’s rear door while the car was moving. But in the Sun interview he said, “They couldn’t get me out because the child locks were activated, so they ended up dragging me struggling and screaming out of the window.” The Daily Mail had quoted “unnamed sources” saying that the police were puzzling over how, if either of these things had happened, Shrien had had no visible injuries after the attack.
“I have spoken with my son-in-law,” Vinod told a reporter for the Daily Mail, “and there are far more questions than answers.” He was also frustrated with the South African police, whom he felt were not keeping him adequately informed about the case. Finally, he decided to fly back to Cape Town himself, in time for Tongo’s next court appearance.
On the morning of December 7, Tongo was led into the Western Cape High Court, a century-old colonnaded building in the Cape Town city center. Vinod took his place in the upstairs galley of the oak-paneled chamber, clutching a picture of his daughter. There were dozens of other spectators there, as well as a clutch of news photographers who jostled for position along the rail behind the front-row bench, where the defendant would be seated.
At 9 a.m., police led Tongo from his basement holding cell into the chamber. The driver pulled his pale blue shirt over his face to shield himself from the photographers, then slumped onto the bench. De Kock, the prosecutor, had warned Vinod ahead of time that he should be prepared for “the worst.” Now de Kock stood up in front of the magistrate, Judge John Hlophe, with Tongo’s signed confession in his hand. The spectators in the gallery leaned forward in their seats. “The alleged hijacking was in fact not a hijacking, but part of a plan of subterfuge,” de Kock said. Shrien Dewani and Tongo had worked together to hide the truth, he went on. “The deceased was murdered at the instance of her husband.”
Even by the standards of South Africa’s murder capital, it was, as de Kock described it, a remarkable crime. According to Tongo’s confession, shortly after the driver had taken the Dewanis from the airport to the Cape Grace hotel, Shrien Dewani had taken him aside and confided that he wanted “a client of his taken off the scene,” according to the confession. “After some discussion,” Tongo recounted, “I understood that he wanted someone, a woman, killed.” Shrien was willing to pay the killers 15,000 rand, about $2,200, to plan and carry out the murder. Tongo would get an additional 5,000 rand as a finder’s fee.
The murder plot would take barely 24 hours from conception to execution. Tongo said that he first reached out to a middleman, a hotel receptionist named Monde Mbolombo. Mbolombo led Tongo to Mziwamadoda Lennox Qwabe, a small-time drug dealer and occasional house-party DJ he knew in Khayelitsha. At noon on Saturday, Tongo met with Shrien again at the hotel, and the two men sketched the outlines of the crime. “The hijacking would be simulated,” Tongo recalled. “The agreement was that after the ‘hijacking’ of the vehicle, both Shrien Dewani and I would be ejected from the vehicle unharmed, after which the deceased would be murdered.”
According to the confession, on Saturday afternoon Tongo met with Qwabe and the accomplice he had found, a neighborhood hoodlum named Xolile Mngeni. As the men drove through Khayelitsha in Tongo’s car, they discussed the particulars of the killing: how they would carry it out and how the payment would be delivered. Tongo promised to leave 15,000 rand in the “cubbyhole”—apparently referring to a pocket behind the front passenger seat—of the Volkswagen in advance of the ambush. Then, that evening, he would drive the Dewanis to the intersection of NY 112 and NY 108 in Gugulethu, where Qwabe and Mngeni would be waiting.
During dinner at the Surfside Restaurant, Tongo alleged, Shrien took him aside again and “wanted to know if I had arranged for the guys. I confirmed … that everything had been arranged.” Then Anni and Shrien got into the Volkswagen, and they set out on the road back to Cape Town. During that trip, Tongo said, he sent a text message to Shrien reminding him not to forget about the money. Shrien texted him back, he said, assuring him that the cash was “in an envelope in a pouch behind the front seat.”
When they arrived at the intersection in Gugulethu, “Mngeni positioned himself in the front of the vehicle, and Qwabe was at my door pointing a firearm at me,” Tongo stated. He was told to unlock the doors. Qwabe climbed into the driver’s seat, while Mngeni got in the back. The Dewanis were ordered to lie down on the backseat, and Qwabe pulled away from the curb. “Shrien Dewani and I continued to pretend that we were being ‘hijacked’ by Mngeni and Qwabe,” the confession went on. “I knew that Mngeni and Qwabe would not harm Shrien Dewani and that he would be dropped off at some further point. I also knew that the deceased would be kidnapped, robbed, and murdered … after Shrien Dewani had been ejected from the vehicle in accordance with the plan.”
Police would later extract a confession from Qwabe that corroborated and expanded upon Tongo’s recollection of the crime. Qwabe recounted that Mbolombo had called him on Friday evening, after the Dewanis arrived at the hotel, and told him that a “job” needed to be done. Later, “Tongo told me that he will bring a couple into the township and that the husband wanted the wife killed,” he alleged. “The husband wanted the job done the same Saturday.” Waiting at the appointed intersection in Gugulethu, Qwabe said, he put on a pair of yellow rubber kitchen gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.
The most significant point on which his account differed from Tongo’s was the identity of the shooter. In Qwabe’s version of events, it was Mngeni, not Qwabe, who brandished the gun, a Norinco 7.62 pistol. “Watti”—his nickname for Mngeni—“pointed it at Zola and ordered him out of the vehicle. Zola got … into the back with the passengers. I got behind the wheel and Watti got in on the passenger side.” Before they threw him out of the car, Tongo “whispered that the money is in a small packet behind the front passenger seat.”
Qwabe continued driving to Khayelitsha, where “we ordered the husband to get out of the vehicle.” A little farther down the road, according to Qwabe’s account, Mngeni—still seated in the front passenger seat—fired a single shot at Anni. According to the autopsy report, the bullet grazed her thumb, severed two major veins in her neck, perforated her spinal cord, then exited her back; she would have bled to death in seconds. Behind the wheel, Qwabe was “scared and nervous,” he said. He got out and felt around for the casing in the backseat. As he and Mngeni fled the scene, he threw it down a storm drain. Police later recovered the cartridge from the drain and found the gun in the shack of a Khayelitsha resident to whom Qwabe had given it for safekeeping.
Two days before his court appearance, Tongo and his attorney had struck a deal with the provincial government: Tongo would plead guilty to murder, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping, and agree to testify against all other participants in the murder. In exchange, he would receive a sentence of 18 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after 12. (The typical sentence for such a crime in South Africa is life imprisonment without parole).
As de Kock read the details of the murder plot, murmurs of surprise and shock reverberated through the gallery. About six hours later, a magistrate in Britain issued a warrant ordering Shrien Dewani taken into custody on suspicion of conspiring to murder his wife.
Shrien Dewani surrendered at the Southmead police station in Bristol at 10:38 p.m. on December 7, 2010. The next morning, at the High Court in Westminster, he appeared dazed and exhausted, glassy-eyed, as he stood at the bar beside his attorney. After two days in prison, he was released on £250,000 bond (about $380,000). He surrendered his passport, had an electronic bracelet attached to his ankle, and retreated to his family home in the Bristol suburb of Westbury-on-Trym.
Back in Mariestad, the Hindocha family was divided on the question of Shrien’s guilt. Ami Denborg spoke sympathetically of Shrien in interviews with the press, but Vinod had come around to his mother’s insistent conviction of Shrien’s involvement. His sense of betrayal had deepened during his most recent trip to Cape Town. After Tongo’s confession, officers from the Hawks took him and his brother Ashok for a drive through the townships, following the route taken by Anni and her killers. The three investigators had pointed out the sandy side street where Shrien had been ejected from the minivan. From there, Vinod counted the seconds until they reached the spot where the hijacker had fired the shot that killed his daughter. Anni, he realized, had spent three minutes alone, desperate, begging for her life.
While Shrien holed up at the Dewani estate, the evidence substantiating the claims against him kept piling up in Cape Town. The South African police said they had recovered phone records indicating that text messages had indeed passed between Zola Tongo and Shrien while they were on the highway. The police recovered closed-circuit television footage from the Cape Grace lobby, taken three days after the murder, that showed Shrien handing Tongo a white plastic package said by police to contain 1,000 rand—partial payment, they claimed, for Tongo’s role in setting up the murder.
Perhaps the most incriminating element in the case against Shrien was the assertion by South African police that Anni had not been raped. Though the forensic report had not been released to the public, both Paul Hendrikse and South African Police Commissioner Bheki Cele had stated that there was no evidence that any sexual assault had occurred, and the Hawks had stated the same thing to Vinod when they took him to the site of Anni’s murder in December. What reason, then, would the gunmen have had to separate the couple, other than premeditated murder?
The only thing missing, it seemed, was a motive. There had been no insurance policy, no will, nothing to suggest that Shrien had been interested in financial gain. Almost everybody who knew the couple talked about their deep affection for each other; no one had seen signs of discontent on his part.
Then, in December, a man named Leopold Leisser showed up at Scotland Yard. Leisser was a male escort from Munich, known professionally as the German Master; his website featured a photo of himself, unshaven and wearing leather gear and a police cap, biting down on a huge cigar, asking, “Are you ready for total domination?” He had seen Shrien’s photograph in the newspapers, he told the police, and recognized him as a former client. Within days, Leisser had reportedly sold an interview to London’s Sun tabloid in which he claimed that he’d had three paid sessions of “kinky sex” with Shrien in the months before his wedding.
Shrien denied knowing Leisser and threatened to sue him and the Sun for defamation. And it was true that a leather daddy who had emerged out of nowhere to extract a payday from a tabloid made for a less than credible figure. A few weeks later, however, a 53-year-old political aide in Parliament paid a visit to British investigators working on the case and told them that he, too, had had several sexual encounters with Shrien. The rendezvous point, the aide said, was a gay fetish club in London called the Hoist. He had come forward, he said, because he was outraged by Shrien’s denials of his own sexuality. “The man told detectives that Dewani was a ‘submissive’ who enjoyed sadomasochism and dressing up in leather,” the Daily Star, another British tabloid, reported. Nobody in Britain would have mistaken the Star or the Sun—with their topless model photos and soap-opera gossip—for a reputable source, but soon the story was given credence by more respected British newspapers, including the Guardian.
In February, the South African legal team seeking Shrien’s extradition told a magistrates’ court in London that they had obtained an affidavit from “a significant witness”—identified in the press as Leisser—who had agreed to testify that Shrien had been unhappy about his upcoming marriage. Shrien told him that “although she was a nice, lovely girl who he liked, he could not break out of the proposal to get married because he would be disowned by his family,” the South African attorney told the court. “He went on to say to the witness that he needed to find a way out of” the marriage.
The idea that Shrien’s double life would prompt him to murder his new wife might have been far-fetched, but it quickly gained traction with the Hindochas. In their view, he was terrified by the possibility of being exposed as a homosexual and of the scandal that might ensue. “If Anni knew [that he was gay] she would have left him, and if she found it out during the honeymoon, he would have panicked,” Ami told me. She and other family members argue that a failed marriage, following his earlier broken engagement, could well have destroyed his reputation within the close-knit, deeply conservative British-Indian elite. Maybe Shrien, they supposed, panicking and desperate to preserve appearances, decided to kill Anni rather than face the humiliation of a divorce. “This marriage was supposed to be perfect,” says Ashok Hindocha, who has frequently voiced his certainty that Shrien murdered his niece. “This is a religious family; they are very involved in society. Shrien could not have it come out openly that he was gay.”
There were also unrelated incidents that, in retrospect, appeared ominous. Ami described to me a phone call she had received from Anni three weeks before the wedding. Anni, in tears, told her she wanted to call off the ceremony. “I’ve thrown back the ring. I’m not going to marry him,” she told Ami. She said she had moved out of the hotel room she and Shrien were sharing in Mumbai and was staying at a friend’s apartment. “He’s so controlling, I can’t stand him,” Ami says Anni told her. She was sick of how Shrien berated her about petty things: not folding dirty clothes before tossing them into the laundry basket, eating ice cream and other sweets, leaving her belongings scattered about the room.
Chalking up Anni’s second thoughts to pre-wedding jitters, Ami tried to calm her. “It’s stress,” she said. “You’ve been planning this for two months.” Hundreds of people had already booked their flights, she reminded her sister, including their parents. Anni’s father and cousin and Shrien’s brother Preyen called her over the course of the night as well, and by the next morning the crisis seemed to have passed. But Ami would remember the advice she had given her sister. She had to go ahead with the wedding, Ami told her, and if things didn’t work out, “You can always get a divorce.”
Late in the afternoon on November 15, the day after the police found Anni Dewani’s body, a freelance reporter named Dan Newling walked into the lobby of the Cape Grace hotel. He spotted Shrien Dewani, who was standing in the middle of a group of well-dressed Indian men and women, and introduced himself as a journalist. Shrien declined to talk, and Newling told him that he would be in the hotel’s café if he changed his mind. He found a table in a secluded corner of the café, overlooking the waterfront, and settled in to wait.
Newling was 34 years old, a tall, good-looking Englishman whose disarmingly laid-back manner belied his tenacity as a reporter. He had spent seven years in London working for the Daily Mail, covering foreign news and working on long-term investigations. Earlier that year, his wife, a physician, had taken a job in Cape Town, and Newling quit the Daily Mail and followed her. The expatriate life agreed with him, and he had cobbled together some freelance work for the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, and half a dozen other British papers. Newling had as much of an appetite as the next tabloid reporter for a good crime yarn, but he also had a sharply analytical mind. The day before, an editor at the Daily Mail had phoned him after seeing a wire-service report on Anni Dewani’s murder and suggested that Newling check it out.
After an hour, Shrien walked into the café and sat down at Newling’s table. He had immense bags under his eyes. Newling told him he looked exhausted. Shrien replied that he had barely slept since the night before the murder; he had been awake for three days. For the next 45 minutes, he took Newling—the first reporter he had spoken to—step-by-step through what had happened on Saturday night.
He was polite and well-spoken in spite of his visible distress. “Of course I have an enormous amount of guilt about the whole episode,” he told Newling. “However, having gone through events over and over again in my mind, it is difficult to see how we could have done things differently.” When he talked about Anni, his eyes welled up with tears. “She loved people and she loved life and she was always, always happy,” he said. Newling didn’t question him aggressively about the hijacking. “I expected him to be traumatized,” he told me. It had not occurred to him that Shrien might be anything other than a victim.
Four days later, Bheki Cele, the national police commissioner, called a press conference in a community hall in Gugulethu township to discuss the case. Identifying himself as a British journalist, Newling asked Cele whether he considered Cape Town a “safe destination” for tourists. The commissioner, a large, bullet-headed man known for his shoot-from-the-hip style, glared at him. Instead of answering the question, he recounted a recent trip he had made to London, during which his taxi driver had “literally refused” to take him through the South London neighborhood of Brixton. “We should not come here as if we are spotless in our own countries,” he said. “You are not crimeless. Don’t talk as if you are crimeless.”
Newling had grown up in South London. Brixton was a bit rough, he knew, but hardly comparable to the township where the Dewanis had been hijacked. But the commissioner’s fierce defensiveness about Cape Town was shared by many in the South African media; several journalists rebuked Newling after the press conference. There is something funny here, he thought as he left the community hall.
As the case lurched through its bizarre twists and turns in the weeks that followed, Newling dutifully reported them, but the whole affair still seemed fishy to him. “From the very beginning of this case, I’ve been skeptical of the official account of Anni’s death,” he told me when I met him for lunch recently on Cape Town’s Long Street. He was a newcomer to South Africa, but he knew enough about the national police’s reputation not to take law-enforcement officials at their word. The South African police were haunted by the legacy of the apartheid years, when ill-trained cops carried out extrajudicial killings and used torture and planted evidence to win convictions. According to the country’s Independent Complaints Directorate, 294 people died in police custody between 2009 and 2010, and seven of them had been tortured to death. The police were also legendarily corrupt. Cele’s predecessor had been removed from the job the previous year over allegations that he had received more than a million rand in bribes from a prominent drug lord.
The enthusiasm and credence with which politicians and ordinary South Africans had rushed to embrace Tongo’s confession surprised Newling. Many Cape Town residents, he knew, were aggrieved by their city’s reputation for violent crime. For the one in ten of them who were employed by the tourism industry, that reputation wasn’t just an insult but a threat. The day after Anni’s death, Cele—a man with no prior law-enforcement experience who owed his public profile to his loyal membership in President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress political party—had bitterly rued its potential impact. “It’s appalling that the actions of one or two thugs should bring our entire country into disrepute in the eyes of the world,” he told reporters. “South Africa hosts hundreds of thousands of tourists annually without any incident, as was proved during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.”
Shortly after Shrien was granted bail in London, Cele, speaking at a police ceremony in the northern province of Limpopo, was asked again about the case. “A monkey came all the way from London to have his wife murdered here,” he said. “Shrien thought we South Africans were stupid when he came all the way to kill his wife in our country.” William Booth, chairman of the criminal-law committee of the Law Society of South Africa, described Cele’s “monkey” comment as “bizarre and ridiculous,” arguing that the prejudicial statement could jeopardize South Africa’s case for Shrien’s extradition. (The following October, Zuma fired Cele for conflict of interest and corruption relating to the leasing of police-owned buildings to a business tycoon. A board of inquiry found that he was “unfit for office.”)
Several other details had started to bother Newling. How plausible was it, really, that two strangers had arranged a murder-for-hire during a brief conversation after a ride in from the airport? Similarly skeptical reporters for the West Cape News had tried to find out firsthand how easy it would be to do what Shrien had allegedly done. Using underworld contacts, they found three young men willing to carry out a hit for between 5,000 and 15,000 rand—but all three said that the killing would take days, maybe even weeks, to organize.
There was also the matter of the accomplice. Tongo had no criminal record, and there was nothing in his background to suggest that he would jump at the opportunity to play assistant hit man. Even if he had, it seemed to stretch credulity that Tongo would have considered the plot to be worth it. His salary at the tour company where he worked was 5,000 rand a month plus tips, and he made another 2,000 a month freelancing on the side. Would he really have risked a life sentence for less than one month’s pay?
But Newling kept running up against one detail that seemed to point strongly toward Shrien’s guilt: the police’s insistence that there was no sign that Anni had been raped by her abductors. When lawyers for the South African government formally requested Shrien’s extradition from Britain in January, they cited this fact to support their case. If not rape, what other reason than premeditated murder would the attackers have had to separate the couple?
Newling puzzled over that question. Then, one morning in early February, he decided to take a drive.
The neighborhood of Elitha Park, near where Anni’s body had been found, sits on the western edge of Khayelitsha, bordering a sweep of sandy wasteland where adolescent Xhosa boys, according to tradition, live alone in isolated shacks for a month following their ritual circumcisions. The more prosperous sections of the neighborhood are sealed off by high cement walls topped by barbed wire. Piles of trash line the roadside and collect in the weedy vacant lots between the houses.
Leaving his car on the same asphalt strip where Anni’s body had been found, Newling began knocking on doors. When he got to a house 100 feet from the spot where the Volkswagen had been abandoned, a young woman answered the door. A 20-year-old business student, she had been at home on the morning of November 14 when Anni’s body was found. Yes, she said, she remembered the incident vividly. Sometime between 7 and 8 a.m., she told Newling, her brother had told her to come outside—there was a dead body in a car, he said. She arrived on the scene just in time to see a police officer open the rear side door of the minivan. “When he did,” she said, “the lady’s head fell back and blood spattered onto the road below.” She had had a clear view inside the car. “The woman’s head was nearest us and she was lying on her back,” she said. “Her knees were up and her legs were apart. I could see that her dress was pulled up to her waist and that her underwear was below her knees.”
Newling asked her whether she believed that Anni had been raped. “It looked to me very strongly that they had done something to her,” she replied. “I couldn’t say if they raped her. But she had definitely been attacked. That I am sure about.”
Not long after, Newling was leaked a postmortem report, written on November 15 by a pathologist who had examined Anni’s corpse, that had been invoked by the authorities but never released. “No signs of any sexual assault were found,” Paul Hendrikse had written in his affidavit for the court. In the press conference that week, Bheki Cele had insisted that “there is no evidence at the present moment that there was a sexual assault.” But the pathologist’s report suggested that, at the very least, this wasn’t the whole truth. In fact, there had been four bruises “arranged in a semi-circular fashion” on the victim’s lower left leg. “These are reminiscent,” the pathologist wrote, “of fingerprint contusions.”
The prosecution’s story was being challenged elsewhere as well. On February 17, lawyers for Mziwamadoda Lennox Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni alleged in interviews with the Guardian that their clients’ confessions had been extracted under torture by the police. Thabo Nogemane, Qwabe’s lawyer, claimed that his client had been beaten with a flashlight by one of the officers. “He was hit all over his body,” he said. “The police in South Africa only hit in such a way that there are no marks, no evidence.” Nogemane told the Guardian that Qwabe’s “statement was a suggestion put to him by the police. They already had the allegations so they told him: ‘Just sign here.’”
Vusi Tshabalala, Mngeni's lawyer, told the Guardian that police “physically assault[ed Mngeni] with fists and use[d] a plastic bag to suffocate him,” because they were desperate to solve a high-profile murder that threatened Cape Town’s booming tourism industry. (Neither lawyer’s allegations have been independently corroborated.) “They were under pressure,” Nogemane told the Guardian. “They had to act quickly and get information. They arrested the wrong people.”
On February 20, an ambulance was called to the house at Westbury-on-Trym. Shrien had taken an overdose of sleeping medication and was in serious condition. At the Bristol Royal Infirmary, “He told the staff … that he did not want to live,” according to a subsequent psychiatric evaluation. His publicist, Max Clifford, claimed that Shrien had lost 28 pounds since his wife’s death and was getting “weaker and weaker and weaker.”
Shrien was diagnosed with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and committed to the Priory Hospital in London, a mental health and addiction rehabilitation facility popular with British celebrities. Three days later, a new article by Newling appeared in London’s Daily Express. It was different from his earlier stories, this time written in the first person and betraying a barely concealed sense of outrage. The headline read, “Why I Believe Shrien Dewani Is Innocent.”
“There is no other reporter who knows the [Dewani] case better than I do,” Newling wrote. “So it has been with a growing sense of disquiet and anger that I have seen the traumatised widower I met three months ago turned, in the eyes of the world, into a killer. On the evidence I have seen, not only is Dewani unlikely to have killed his wife but he could be the victim of an injustice.”
While allowing that he could not say for certain what had happened on the night of November 13, Newling argued that “it seems highly unlikely that any criminal court—British or South African—would agree” with the prosecution’s theory of the case. The state’s witnesses were all hopelessly compromised. Zola Tongo “is a self-confessed liar,” Newling wrote, who had admitted to obstructing justice by misleading the police and had had seven years dropped from his sentence in exchanging for “helpful” testimony. The other witnesses had all been offered immunity from punishment in exchange for their testimony corroborating the prosecution’s story.
There could have been a perfectly innocent explanation for the envelope of money that Shrien was caught on camera handing to Tongo. While Shrien “likes to appear self-assured and worldly,” Newling wrote, “he is actually woefully naïve.” He had told Newling that in the days immediately following the hijacking, “he quite liked” Tongo, who had not been paid for the cab ride to Gugulethu. “If the guileless Briton was taken in,” Newling wrote, “then isn’t it possible that he could have fallen for a sob story a few days later and agreed to pay Tongo the fare they had agreed?” As it happens, the 1,000 rand that Shrien gave Tongo is about what it costs to take a taxi from the Cape Grace to the Strand—where the couple had eaten at the Surfside Restaurant—and back to the hotel.
In traveling into the townships late at night, the Dewanis had wandered into not just physically dangerous territory but also a perilous corner of the local public consciousness. “Talk about the Dewani case in South Africa and you risk getting into an argument,” Newling wrote. “People here are angry at the violent crime that plagues their country and at being reminded of it by foreigners. They are keen that their country—reborn after the horrors of apartheid—should not be a place where tourists get killed by cab drivers.”
In April 2011, Shrien Dewani got into a “heated discussion” with a fellow patient at Priory Hospital who had told him, according to a source close to Shrien, that he should “go back to South Africa.” A subsequent psychiatric evaluation determined that Shrien had developed “psychotic symptoms.” He was transferred to a psychiatric unit at Kewstoke and, two weeks later, to a higher-security facility in Bristol.
While Shrien underwent intensive treatment, lawyers, psychiatrists, and government officials wrestled with the matter of his extradition to South Africa. Two South African criminal justice experts, citing overcrowding and gang rape in South African prisons, warned that he would almost certainly face grave dangers if he were forced to serve a sentence there. “He fitted [sic] the profile of someone who was particularly vulnerable,” they wrote in their report. “He was youthful, good looking, and lacked ‘street wisdom.’” Shrien’s attorney argued that if he were ordered to stand trial in South Africa, he would likely commit suicide.
Nevertheless, in late September, the British home secretary ordered Shrien’s extradition. Shrien’s attorneys appealed the decision immediately. Six months later, a British judge temporarily blocked the order. He ruled that Shrien suffered from an “unusual combination of PTSD and depression to such a severe degree” that “extradition would present a real and significant risk to his life.”
That August, police extracted an official confession, in writing, from Mziwamadoda Lennox Qwabe, Tongo’s alleged accomplice. By the terms of his plea bargain, Qwabe was sentenced to 25 years in exchange for corroborating Tongo’s story—he would be eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of that time—and agreeing to testify as a prosecution witness in the murder trial of Xolile Mngeni, the only alleged accomplice in the plot who had not struck a plea deal.
Mngeni’s trial opened in August 2012. While in prison, he had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and he staggered into the Wynberg Criminal Court each morning looking frail and using a walker. He listened impassively as his alleged accomplices implicated him in Anni’s killing. When Qwabe took the stand, prosecutors showed the court a videotaped statement he had made immediately after his arrest, which told the same story as his recent written confession. Anni’s killing was a murder for hire, he told police, and Mngeni had pulled the trigger.
But then a tape was played by prosecutors of Mngeni’s first statements to police, which painted a very different picture. On the tape, Mngeni said nothing about a murder-for-hire, describing Anni Dewani’s killing instead as a robbery gone wrong. He didn’t mention Zola Tongo. After stealing the Dewanis’ valuables, he said, “I asked [Qwabe], ‘What are we going to do with these two? Let’s throw them out here.’” But Qwabe disagreed, he said, and kept driving.
It was Qwabe, Mngeni insisted, who had fired the fatal shot. “He stopped the vehicle,” Mngeni said. “He then took his firearm, and I thought we were going to leave. And he climbed off the vehicle and walked around to my side. He opened the passenger doors right behind me. And [Anni] was sitting at the back, next to the other door. He then pulled a small bag from this lady, and the lady was hanging on, crying, and she was scared. I heard one gunshot. Then I asked [Qwabe], the thing that he is doing, what caused him to do it? Then we started arguing. Then he told me I cannot tell him what to do.”
Any skilled criminal attorney would have homed in on the discrepancy between Qwabe’s and Mngeni’s versions of events and used those contradictions to attempt to poke holes in Qwabe’s story. He would also have brought up the plea bargain that Qwabe had taken in exchange for a mitigated sentence and questioned whether Qwabe had lied to spare himself a life term. But Mngeni’s lawyer offered no such challenges. He posed only a few feeble questions during cross-examination. The judge found Mngeni guilty of a premeditated murder-for-hire and sentenced him to life in prison without parole. Mngeni flashed an incongruous thumbs-up sign before he was escorted out of the courtroom, supporting himself on his walker.
But Mngeni’s account, set alongside Tongo’s and Qwabe’s conflicting confessions, left a morass of inconsistencies: the number of guns that had been used in the hijacking, the seating arrangement in the minivan, the identity of the triggerman. The South African authorities—who had once seemed eager to make a spectacle out of Anni’s murder—now mostly refused to talk about it. Eric Ntabazalila, the spokesman for Rodney de Kock, the prosecutor, provided me with some court documents, but when I pressed him for more information, he demurred, then stopped taking my calls. My last communication from him was a brief email, rebuking me for writing about the case. “I must say I’m very disappointed with you,” he wrote. “I won’t be able to assist with anything from now on.”
Meanwhile, one of the critical pieces of evidence against Shrien—the text messages about money that he and Tongo had supposedly passed back and forth in the car before Anni’s killing—had proved to be a chimera. In court the police were forced to admit that though they had computer records showing that Tongo had sent seven texts to Dewani the day of Anni’s murder, they had been unable to retrieve the actual messages. Though the police had seized Tongo’s cell phone from Mngeni’s home the day after the murder, the incriminating texts had apparently been deleted—perhaps by Tongo, perhaps by Mngeni. And, the police admitted, contrary to earlier statements, they had no computer record of Dewani’s sending any texts to Tongo during the drive.
By this point, Dan Newling’s reporting pointed to a different scenario: Tongo had sized up the Dewanis as easy marks and arranged with his accomplices for a fake hijacking in order to rob the couple of their money and valuables. (The police had recovered a number of the Dewanis’ items from the suspects and their acquaintances, including a Giorgio Armani wristwatch, a white gold and diamond bracelet, a leather purse, and a BlackBerry.) But his coconspirators lost control of the situation and themselves, shooting Anni to death during a rape attempt. Tongo, the theory went, then incriminated Shrien to reduce his own sentence, and the police, eager to recast the murder as a crime instigated by a foreign tourist, went along with Tongo’s story, or even coached him on it.
On a Saturday morning in December, I decided to trace the final journey of Shrien and Anni Dewani myself. At Mzoli’s, the barbecue restaurant in Gugulethu township, I met a local guide named Vusi. Together we drove to the crossroads where Mngeni and Qwabe had held up Tongo and the Caltex gas station where Tongo had been ejected from the vehicle. From there we turned onto the N2 and drove to Khayelitsha.
I had spent years reporting from some of the most dangerous corners of Africa and the Middle East, but even so, I found myself overwhelmed by the squalor as we drove deeper into the township. The wind kicked up sand, and through occasional gaps between the storefronts lining the shoulder I could see a sweeping bowl packed with corrugated-tin-roofed shacks—thousands of them, a vast human beehive. As we drove through Elitha Park, we passed Pentecostal worshipers in white robes gathered in a vacant lot, chanting and praying. The car descended a gentle slope and turned right at a T junction. Here, the shacks thinned out, and we passed a sea of empty dunes. It was somewhere on this deserted stretch of road that one of the two men raised his gun and fired a single shot.
We parked the car near the street where Xolile Mngeni lived, in a tidy if poor neighborhood of Khayelitsha consisting mostly of stucco and brick bungalows. Vusi had called Mngeni’s grandmother that morning, but she refused to see us. “She says the grandson has been sentenced, she sees no need to talk, and she says that you are giving her heartache,” he told me. Half a dozen adolescent boys playing in a makeshift video-game parlor next to the grandmother’s tiny butterscotch-colored house stared at me as I walked past.
Down the road we came upon a slim, bearded man wearing a golden earring and a red baseball cap, sitting on a stoop. It was Lwando Mngeni, Xolile Mngeni’s older brother. In return for an offer to buy him lunch, he agreed to talk a bit, and he got into the car with us. I asked him whether he believed his brother was guilty of Anni’s murder. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “I think it is impossible. Even the community was surprised. They saw him as a nice guy who would never do anything like that.”
Had Mngeni spent much time with Qwabe before they allegedly committed the crime? I asked. “Qwabe and Xolile and me, we were all together, playing music at some parties,” Lwando said. “If you didn’t have music for a function, you would always go and ask Qwabe. He had everything on his laptop—house music, R&B, ballads. But I didn’t know him as a criminal.”
The Mngenis’ mother, Lwando said, “died when I was eight years old, my brother was six years old. She died of poisoning.” He stopped, and for a moment I thought I could see tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “The only thing I remember is that the priest came and asked me to say good-bye to my mother, that I would see her in heaven.” He and his brother lived for a short time with their father in Gugulethu, but the man had a second wife and a new family, and he sent them away. “After that we grew up with my grandmother.” He had never graduated high school, and got by, he said, “doing piecework—two months here, two months there, cutting trees, manual labor.” Sometimes, he said, “I did some [comedy] sketches, acting with my brother” in a neighborhood playhouse in Khayelitsha. Lwando told me that he’d last seen his brother in court a week ago, before he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. “He told me he was innocent,” Lwando said.
In a London courtroom a few days later, Vinod Hindocha sat in the gallery while Shrien’s attorney, Clare Montgomery, described her client’s diminished life. Shrien had become “a husk,” she said, who spent hours playing computer games in a camper van set up as a recreation room in the parking lot at Fromeside Clinic in Bristol, plagued by flashbacks of his wife's killing. District Judge Howard Riddle ordered him relocated to another mental institution, one with a more “open, relaxed, and calm environment.” Then he postponed the extradition hearing until July 2013—putting on hold, once again, the final judgment of Shrien’s guilt or innocence.
By this point, it seemed to me that the initial confession that Mngeni had given after the crime was the most plausible of the many blurred accounts of what had happened the night of Anni’s murder—that it was a robbery, and possibly sexual assault, gone wrong. It was not out of the realm of possibility that Shrien had done what his accusers had said he’d done, of course—the scenario suggested by Dan Newling’s reporting would require a plot only slightly less elaborate than the one the police had accused Shrien of concocting. But the evidence against Shrien was too circumstantial, the witnesses too compromised, the motives too elusive to prove as much.
Perversely, the greatest barrier to establishing this once and for all was Shrien’s own unwillingness to travel to South Africa to prove his innocence. (Following his drug overdose in February 2011, a judge assigned to his case declared that it had been “a deliberate overdose to avoid engaging with the extradition proceedings.”) It was easy enough to see why he wouldn’t go: Was clearing his name really worth testing his luck in the prisons and courtrooms of a country that seemed so eager to find him guilty? But it was just as hard to deny the Hindochas’ demand that he do just that.
I spoke to Vinod for the last time in February, over the phone, after seeing a story in London’s Sun tabloid reporting that Nilam Hindocha had stopped eating because of anxiety and depression; she seemed to have lost the will to live. I sent Vinod a concerned email and received a quick response: “Nilam [is] better,” he wrote, “but NOT as it should be.”
When I called, I asked Vinod if, after all he had seen and heard, he could admit to any possibility that Shrien was innocent. “I’m not saying that he did it,” he replied. “I’m not saying that he didn’t do it. I’m saying, go to South Africa and give us answers.”