Cape Town - The Cape Town attorney who represented the man who fingered British businessman Shrien Dewani as the mastermind of his wife’s murder says the international critics who feared that Dewani would not be dealt with fairly in South Africa can now eat their words.
“They wanted a fair trial and they got a fair trial,” William da Grass told Weekend Argus this week.
He was commenting on the Western Cape High Court’s acquittal of Dewani on charges that he orchestrated the killing of his wife Anni while they were on honeymoon in Cape Town in 2010.
The court found that the prosecution had failed to make out a case against Dewani, after finding that the evidence of the State’s star witness, Zola Tongo, was marred by inconsistencies and lies.
Now Da Grass, who represented Tongo when he pleaded guilty to the murder and claimed that Dewani was the one who approached him to find a hitman, says that those who created the impression that South Africa was uncivilised and unsophisticated have egg on their faces.
“I am really sick and tired of this Afro-pessimism. Everything in South Africa is somehow inferior. I am sick and tired of the gutter sniping and defamatory remarks about our country and our judicial system,” he said.
Speaking about Tongo, Da Grass said he felt sorry for the former airport shuttle operator because his life was ruined.
“I think this is a chap who had a fantastic future. And I seriously hope that Zola can pick up the pieces when he gets released.”
Tongo is serving 18 years in jail.
Prosecuting authorities have also hit back at their critics, saying that campaigners lost sight of how things work in court. They denied that Dewani received red carpet treatment.
Before the judgment, campaign group Justice4Anni questioned why photographers and cameramen were not allowed to take photographs and video clips of Dewani during the trial, and why Dewani was held at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital instead of in prison.
“(Western Cape Director of Public Prosecutions Rodney) de Kock was more concerned for Dewani than he was for getting justice for an innocent murder victim,” the group said.
But this week, the prosecution defended itself.
“Shrien Dewani did not receive special treatment. The English court made it a condition of his extradition that he must be detained at Valkenberg.
“We were obliged to comply with our international obligation to do so. Once it had been found that he was fit to stand trial, the doctors who treated him recommended that he should remain at Valkenberg during the trial to prevent a relapse,” spokesman Eric Ntabazalila said.
Defending the prosecuting team, Ntabazalila said the prosecution had done all in its power to present all the available evidence as best as it could.
“In our view, the evidence was sufficient to establish a prima facie case with a reasonable chance of a conviction.
“The court’s rulings regarding relevance, its evaluation of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses during the court process are beyond the control of the prosecution.
“The Justice4Anni campaign, being an extrajudicial lobby group, loses sight of the constraints of the judicial process in proving criminal charges beyond reasonable doubt, and it has lost the objectivity that is so necessary in sober evaluation,” he added.
After his acquittal, MailOnline reported that Dewani was booked into a one-bedroom flat at the luxury Icon apartment block in the city centre the day before the judgment, in anticipation of his acquittal.
The day after his acquittal, he left Cape Town on a first-class Emirates flight to Dubai, where he boarded a connecting flight to London.
At Cape Town International Airport, a large media contingent swarmed around him.
Dewani, who previously claimed he could not handle the media attention at court, appeared to cope well as he walked, his head held high.