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Cape Town - Hailing the news that honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani could be put on a plane back to South Africa within as little as three weeks after losing his latest UK battle against extradition, the family of victim Anni Dewani say they won’t give up their fight for justice – “even if we have to fight for 50 years more”.
Dewani was not in court to hear Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas’s ruling in London on Friday, remaining in hospital in Bristol where he is being treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now, said South African Justice Department spokesman advocate Mthunzi Mhaga on Friday night, all stakeholders, including Correctional Services, the Health Department and the National Prosecuting Authority, must get together to discuss the next step.
“The conditions have to be in writing and must stipulate that if (Dewani) is found to be mentally unfit here, then he must be returned to the UK and not detained in a psychiatric hospital here,” Mhaga explained.
It was too early to say exactly what the course of events would be when Dewani finally arrived here, because many discussions still had to take place.
What he could say was that when Dewani arrived, “there will be an arrangement, for a fact, that will cater for his condition”.
Friday’s ruling, expected since the extradition application was initiated in January 2011, was that Dewani was subject to the Extradition Act, and that it would not be “unjust or oppressive” to send him if the South African government agreed he could return to Britain if he was unfit to plead before a trial. The South African government now has three weeks to agree to the High Court’s proposal, but its lawyer in court, Ben Watson, said he “anticipated” it would consent.
Despite the ruling, Dewani could still challenge on Friday’s decision in the UK’s Supreme Court, but no application has been made. He has long argued he is too ill to return.
The three-year battle is aimed at seeing Dewani face charges of being involved in the murder of his new bride Anni, 28, on November 13, 2010. It is alleged that Dewani, 33, paid men to hijack and then kill Anni in Gugulethu while on honeymoon, which he denies.
On Friday night Anni’s uncle, Ashok Hindocha, said from Sweden they were satisfied with the judgment, but remained aware that justice may still be some way off.
But they needed to “know what happened so we can move on in our lives, so we can start the mourning process”. While they were happy the case had taken a “huge, huge” step forward, there had been many hurdles during the past three years.
“We feel that finally the British justice system has made the right decision. We are thankful for that and we hope no other appeals come through, and Shrien Dewani flies to South Africa and is found to be fit to plead so we can move on,” Hindocha said.
“We have full faith in the South African medical system and justice system,” he added, saying the family would definitely travel to the Western Cape for any trial.
Mark van der Heever, deputy director of communications for the Western Cape Health Department, said last night he was unable to release any information on Dewani, except to say the department and its facilities would be ready to receive him.
In his judgment on Friday, Lord Thomas said it might be “unjust and oppressive” to send him back to South Africa if there was no prospect of his health improving, and being fit for trial in the Western Cape.
However, if the South African government gave an undertaking that he would be returned “within a year, or other stated reasonable period” if a trial is unlikely, it would not be “unjust or oppressive”.
He added: “The death of the appellant’s wife Anni occurred over three years ago. The interests of justice, including the interests of her family who, like other families of murdered persons, wish to see a trial take place as soon as is practicable, require expedition and there should be no further delay, provided that proper protection is afforded to the appellant…”
Watson said he was “delighted” by the ruling, but conceded that Dewani could still appeal. He added: “I have to speak to the South African government, but in the next 14 days I anticipate that they will be able to give an undertaking.”
In his statement, Mhaga explained the High Court had ruled that Dewani could be extradited here to stand trial, on condition that South Africa provided an undertaking to the UK that Dewani would be returned if he was found to be unfit to be tried here.
“The High Court ruling sets out in clear terms the conditions upon which it is prepared to sanction Mr Dewani’s return to (South Africa) to stand trial,” the statement continued.
The government would “study the judgment and liaise with the necessary stakeholders to ensure it complies with the directive of the court”.
Mhaga said they had consistently expressed the desire to have Dewani returned to stand trial since the beginning of 2011.
“That desire has not abated and (South Africa) will obviously do everything in its power to ensure compliance with the High Court’s judgment,” he added.
With administrative requirements, the government has 21 days to deliver its assurance. It is unclear who will judge whether Dewani is fit or unfit to stand trial in South Africa, but Watson said it would probably be decided by the South African courts.
Unusually, Anni’s parents, Vinod and Nilam Hindocha, were not in court to hear the judgment. Anni’s first cousin, Amit Karia, said news of the hearing came too late for them to make the trip to London from Sweden.
So far, three men have been convicted over Anni Dewani’s death here, including their driver on the night, Zola Tongo, who was jailed for 18 years.