Wealthy British businessman Shrien Dewani, dubbed the honeymoon murder-accused, arrived in South Africa (SA) this morning and was taken straight to the Cape Town High Court. After losing a lengthy three-year fight to avoid extradition from the United Kingdom, he was flown to Cape Town in a chartered plane, and then whisked straight to court in a black motor vehicle with tinted windows. He was not asked to plead and was transferred to the custody of Valkenberg, a State psychiatric hospital affiliated to the University of Cape Town. Judge John Hlophe, Judge President of the Western Cape High Court, adjourned the case to May 12.
Dewani, 34, who is accused of masterminding the murder of his wife Anni during their honeymoon in Cape Town four years ago, was formally charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, and with obstructing the administration of justice. His legal team did not apply for bail.
While fighting against the South African Government’s request for him to be extradited to stand trial, he has reportedly been suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was taken from a hospital in Bristol yesterday to the airport, and accompanied in a private jet by members of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) and the South African Police Force, as well as a doctor and nurse. He was transferred into the custody of the SA Police Services when he arrived in Cape Town this morning.
Dewani has claimed that he and Anni, both Hindus, were kidnapped at gunpoint in November 2010 while traveling through a largely black township (Gugulethu) in a taxi. The kidnappers let him go but later shot Anni dead and left her body in the car that they abandoned. Xolile Mngeni was convicted of the murder in 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment. His two accomplices, the driver of the taxi, Zola Tongo, and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, were also found guilty. Qwabe was sentenced to 25 years for murder, 15 years for robbery and five years each for kidnapping and for illegal possession of a firearm, with all sentences running concurrently. Tongo was sentenced to a total of 18 years. Mngeni was tried by Judge Robert Henney, while Judge Hlophe tried the other two men.
In a written statement issued today, Dewani’s father, Preyen said that the family was committed to proving Shrien’s innocence. He said that they had “every confidence” in the judicial system in SA and were grateful to the authorities for assuring them that Shrien would continue to receive hospital treatment. He said they looked forward to Shrien’s “health improving, his name being cleared and there being an end to this legal trauma.” He and other members of the Dewani family were present in court this morning. Anni’s family did not attend the short, 15-minute appearance, and may still be in the United Kingdom.
Media, members of the public, and a group of ANC Women’s League protestors (with banners and photographs of Anni Dewani) crowded outside the courthouse waiting for the British honeymoon murder-accused to arrive. Relatives were heckled as they arrived at court, while Dewani himself was taken through a back entrance. After his court appearance he was transferred directly to Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital where he is now reportedly in a single room, rather than a ward, in a maximum-security section of the hospital. Dewani’s “fitness to stand trial” will be assessed over the next month, and if he is found not to be fit to stand trial, it is understood that he will be allowed to return to the UK as agreed between the SA and British authorities.
While it was known that Dewani was being transported to South Africa in terms of his extradition order, it was only this morning that the media discovered he was being transported in a chartered plane. Amidst an uproar that it would cost SA taxpayers millions of Rands, a Department of Justice spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga said it was necessary to charter a jet because of Dewani’s “peculiar medical condition” that needed to be constantly monitored, and because he had shown suicidal tendencies. The SA government “did not want to take chances,” he said. He refused to confirm the costs relating to the charter.
The private charter trip is not the only cost that SA taxpayers will be footing. Since the British honeymoon-murder accused, Shrien Dewani has been transferred to a State psychiatric hospital, the cost of his treatment there will also be covered by taxpayers’ money.
By Penny Swift