The prosecution against UK murder accused Shrien Dewani has been dealt another blow.
And the man responsible is controversial National Prosecuting Authority chief Menzi Simelane.
Yesterday Simelane was slammed for “outrageous” comments he made during a TV interview about the extradition of Dewani, 31.
The UK millionaire is accused of masterminding the murder of his wife Anni during their honeymoon in Gugulethu on November 13.
During an interview on Interface on SABC 3 last Sunday, Simelane, who is also an advocate, proclaimed Dewani’s guilt, an issue which Dewani’s slick spin doctor, Max Clifford, is sure to seize upon.
He told interviewer Tshepang Motsekuoa during an explanation of the extradition process that:
- “This is a pure criminal matter of somebody who murdered his wife whilst he should be celebrating his honeymoon.”
- “The facts here are that the accused that is sought to be extradited came to the country and committed what is a very heinous crime.”
- “As a matter of fact Mr Dewani is a fugitive because he ran away. He ran out of a country where there was a warrant of arrest for him so as a fugitive we then informed Interpol that we would like an international arrest warrant issued for him, so he was flagged internationally so he can’t go anywhere basically.”
However, Dewani left South Africa with the consent of the police and they even made arrangements to avoid the media at the airport.
Simelane’s comments could be viewed as prejudicing the case against Dewani as he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Dewani and Clifford have repeatedly claimed the magnate will not receive a fair trial in South Africa.
Dewani is at home in Bristol suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder awaiting an extradition hearing at the start of May.
Dewani’s legal team is keeping an eagle eye on the behaviour of role players in South Africa since national police commissioner General Bheki Cele made his infamous gaffe last year and told media: “A monkey came all the way from London to have his wife murdered here.”
After the Simelane TV interview last week, the clip appeared on the website of a news monitoring company: www.monitoringsa.com.
Yesterday, NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga defended Simelane, saying the director was only trying to explain the extradition process and his statements were taken out of context.
“This is unfair. We have repeatedly said Dewani would have a fair trial and that we have one of the best constitutions and a respected judicial system. We are confident that he will be extradited to South Africa.”
In January, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe gave the assurance that Dewani would be presumed innocent until proved guilty, saying the constitution guaranteed his right to a free and fair trial.
A spokesman for Dewani said the family did not wish to comment. “This matter is before the courts and the family is confident that Shrien’s name will be cleared.”
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said she had received many phone calls from UK journalists when Cele made his “monkey” comments.
Kohler Barnard said: “We have to know outright which words and phrases we must use with caution. This could be used against us. It is outrageous.”
Law professor Pierre de Vos said Simelane’s comments were “completely inappropriate… and just plain stupid”. This was dangerous with the impending extradition hearing, said De Vos.
“One does not want to influence courts over there and create a negative perception of the South African legal system.
“From a South African perspective what the national director has said is very unwise. If the State chooses to prosecute it is because they obviously have a prima facie case, but it’s not for them to decide on guilt and pronounce that guilt.”
However, De Vos said the statements were unlikely to influence a judge presiding over a possible Dewani murder trial in South Africa.
“The courts are independent of the prosecuting authority… the judges will be able to clear their minds of any statements made by any State institutions,” he said.
De Vos said that he would be surprised if the UK courts did not grant the extradition order for Dewani.
“South Africa has a special extradition treaty and it would be quite surprising if the UK doesn’t grant the extradition.
“Usually it’s granted instantly. All the NPA has to show is that they have a prima facie case. If the extradition is not granted it would be a serious indictment by the UK courts of our legal system,” De Vos said.
“I don’t suspect that these statements will be a fatal blow but they never should have been made because it just gives people like Clifford ammunition to badmouth the SA authorities.”
This week UK newspapers carried reports on claims by two of the accused in the Dewani murder case.
The Guardian newspaper spoke to the men’s lawyers, Thabo Nogemane (Qwabe’s lawyer) and Vusi Tshabalala (Mngeni’s lawyer).
The newspaper reported claims that the accused, Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 25, and Xolile Mngeni, 26, were tortured when they were arrested.
The report said the claims would be scrutinised by Dewani’s lawyers.
The duo will appear in the Wynberg Magistrate’s court on Friday. - Sunday Argus