Cape Town -
She was meant to be a bargaining chip, leverage to extort money from her millionaire husband. But an accidental shot saw her killers’ kidnapping fall apart as Anni Hindocha bled to death in the back seat of a stolen taxi.
On Monday, Shrien Dewani’s senior counsel, advocate Francois van Zyl, told the court that Hindocha’s death carried “all the hallmarks of a shot that wasn’t supposed to go off” rather than the orchestrated “hit” that the UK businessman had been charged with.
He claimed her killers had always planned to hold Hindocha for ransom.
It was an emotional day in court as the fourth day of Dewani’s murder trial began. The 34-year-old Dewani fought back tears during convicted killer Mziwamadoda Qwabe’s heated cross-examination in which Van Zyl made his explosive claim.
Last week Qwabe, who is serving 25 years in prison for his role in the hijacking and murder of Hindocha in 2010, delivered testimony that was picked apart by Dewani’s legal team.
Van Zyl pointed out that throughout his affidavit filed with the police, his plea bargain agreement and his various testimonies, there were multiple conflicting accounts of what had happened inside the car on the night of Hindocha’s death.
This, coupled with the witness’s inability to recall any of the numerous phone conversations he had had that night, cast doubt on his recollection of the events preceding and following the staged hijacking.
Qwabe has always claimed that his accomplice, Xolile Mngeni, fired the shot which killed Hindocha. The pair were enlisted by taxi driver Zola Tongo, who is serving a reduced sentence after entering into a plea bargain with the State.
But on Monday morning Van Zyl said based on Qwabe’s own testimony, in which he says Mngeni was in the front passenger seat for the duration of the hijacking, which saw the pair speed through Gugulethu and Khayelitsha, it would have been physically impossible for him to have fired the fatal shot.
Forensic evidence revealed in court last week stated that the gun had been fired 10mm to 25cm from Hindocha.
Van Zyl said they had measured Mngeni’s arms, which were about 55.5cm, and his reach was far too short to fire the shot from the passenger seat.
He pointed out again that gunpowder residue had been found on the yellow glove worn on Qwabe’s left hand during the hijacking. The crumbling glove was passed around court and inspected closely by Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso.
Van Zyl also questioned why Qwabe and Mngeni had never discussed how they were going to kill Hindocha and why they decided to drive the stolen taxi back to a residential area, rather than somewhere more remote.
He concluded that the shot was accidental and that Qwabe was actually the gunman.
“Your version of how (Anni) was shot is not the truth,” said Van Zyl. “You were most likely standing at the left rear door (when she was shot), pulling her by her lower leg, threatening her at the same time with a pistol against her chest.”
“I disagree,” responded Qwabe, licking his lips and blinking.
“The injuries caused by that bullet, I want to put it to you, it’s not what one normally sees in an execution-type killing, or a hit, if you want. Do you have any comment?”
“I have no comment.”
Van Zyl said the hijackers had booted Dewani from the car because he would have the money to pay his wife’s release. He added that they had planned to take Hindocha to another house, to a fifth unidentified individual, from where they planned to negotiate a ransom.
That was before Qwabe accidentally shot her while trying to pull her from the vehicle. They never planned to kill her, he claimed.
“I disagree,” said the witness again, shifting inside his black tracksuit top.
In the dock Dewani rocked in his seat, his eyes focused on Qwabe as he took long concentrated breaths, struggling to stay composed. He pulled a white handkerchief from his tailored suit and blew his nose quietly.
His family remained passive, their expressionless faces turned towards Qwabe as he recounted how he had ordered Dewani to exit the stolen taxi.
The witness denied Van Zyl’s claims, sticking to his story that he had been paid off by Dewani to execute Hindocha.
After his cross-examination had been concluded, court adjourned for lunch. Hindocha’s family stood huddled in the courtroom’s hall, talking. With another witness set to appear after the break, journalists chose the seats at the front.
The witness list has remained a closely-guarded secret since the beginning of the trial.
Just before court resumed, a young man with short brown hair sat down on the bench next to Hindocha’s family.
He glanced around, adjusting his tie and crossing his legs, as the room filled up.
When he was called to the stand Simon Johnson – a former product manager at Gaydar, the dating website Dewani logged into multiple times during his time in Cape Town, including the day after his wife’s murder – walked quickly to the witness stand.
In his testimony, he told the court that he had access to a “snapshot” of Dewani’s account on the gay dating website the day it was disabled on November 21, 2010, just days after Hindocha’s death.
He revealed that on his profile, Dewani had indicated that he was not only gay but single, and was looking for “a dominant, active guy, fairly arrogant, who likes to train up young subs”.
According to his own admissions, Dewani had been a member of the site since 2004 before disabling his account in 2010.
Johnson said Dewani had 59 saved messages on the site, which he was not asked to read out.
He also could not say which chatrooms he had visited while he was a member.
“Apart from the gayness of this website, would you say it’s almost like Facebook?” asked Van Zyl to a few smirks from the public gallery.
“Facebook is a social network, Gaydar is a personal hook-up site,” responded Johnson, whose time in the stand was concluded quickly and court was adjourned until Tuesday morning.
New witnesses are set to take the stand during the course of Tuesday.
Hitman sought parole
The hitman involved in the murder of honeymoon bride Anni Hindocha asked to have his parole fast tracked in exchange for giving evidence in court during Shrien Dewani’s long-awaited murder trial.
Dewani’s senior counsel advocate Francois van Zyl revealed that Mziwamadoda Qwabe had sent a request to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to move up the date on which he would be eligible for parole.
But the DPP responded that it could give no guarantees, only that it would write to prison authorities once the witness complied with an agreement to testify against Dewani.
Qwabe is serving a 25-year sentence and will only be up for parole after serving 15 years, as stipulated in the plea agreement he struck with the State during his own murder trial in 2012.