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A little over 24 hours – this is what it took to plot Anni Dewani’s murder. Details of the plan, allegedly masterminded by husband Shrien Dewani, were revealed as the State’s first witness took the stand on Wednesday.
The trial of Xolile Mngeni, who is suffering from a brain tumour, started in the Western Cape High Court yesterday after months of delays. The witness, who cannot be named for fear of intimidation, revealed how he was part of the plan to kill Dewani – a plan which started not long after the newlyweds arrived in Cape Town.
Anni was killed on November 13, 2010, in a staged hijacking, allegedly planned by her husband.
A new name has also emerged for the first time, as the man contacted by driver Zola Tongo to carry out the hit. The State will call him as a witness. Tongo was sentenced to 18 years in prison in December after entering into a plea agreement.
In his plea agreement, Tongo said he picked Shrien and Anni Dewani up at the airport. After dropping them at the Cape Grace Hotel, Shrien asked him whether he knew a hitman who would kill a woman for R15 000.
Mngeni has been fingered as the man who fired the shot which killed Anni. On Wednesday, Mngeni pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, murder, illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.
His lawyer, Matthews Dayimani, said they would not make any admissions and that the State had to prove all allegations, even the identity of the dead woman.
On Wednesday’s witness has been indemnified from prosecution for conspiracy to commit murder in exchange for his testimony.
The witness was employed at a Century City hotel and met Tongo in 2007, as a contractor driver transporting hotel guests.
The day before the murder, at about 4.45pm, he said Tongo came to the hotel and asked to speak privately. “He asked if I knew any hitmen and I told him I don’t have such friends, but gave him the number of Abongile. We called Abongile. Tongo was next to me. I told him that there is a gentleman who is looking for a hitman,” the witness said.
Asked why he called Abongile, the witness said because Abongile had given him a bullet in November which he needed for a sangoma he went to see about his ill son.
The witness said Tongo spoke to Abongile at the hotel, saying he needed a hitman but could not speak over the phone. On the day of the murder, at about 10am, the witness was at home in Khayelitsha when he received a call from Abongile saying he was looking for Tongo because they were meant to meet.
Tongo later drove the witness to work for his late shift. “On the way I asked him what he needed a hitman for. He said there is a lady that needs to be killed and that it must look like a hijacking.”
He said he was the liaison between Tongo and Abongile throughout the day of the murder. At one stage Tongo’s phone was off, but he explained it was because he was at a restaurant with the couple.
“Around 8pm I received a call from Zola (Tongo) saying they were leaving the restaurant and I must inform Abongile. Before 10pm Zola said they were on their way to Gugulethu and I told Abongile,” the witness said.
He did not speak to the two men again after 10pm as he told them he was busy working. On Sunday, Abongile came to him saying he was looking for Tongo who still owed him R5 000 of the R15 000 they had agreed on for the hit. “I asked Abongile what happened but he told me not to ask any questions. ‘What needed to be done is done.’ I understood that the murder had been committed and Abongile said it was all over the news.”
The trial continues on Thursday.