An Update – 9 Years later…
MASTERMIND IN HONEYMOON MURDER ABOUT TO GO FREE
Zola Tongo, the taxi driver, who was jailed for an effective 18 years for his part in the murder of Anni Dewani who was murdered while on her honeymoon in South Africa in 2010, is to walk free from jail on July 28 after serving just over half of his sentence. The 39-year-old had his original sentence cut from 25 years to 18 after he agreed to turn state witness and his evidence implicated Dewani and two more men in the murder plot. The procecutors desperately needed evidence to implicate newly married Shrien Dewani who was spending his honeymoon in Cape Town when the murder took place.
Zola Tongo, the taxi driver, who was jailed for an effective 18 years for his part in the murder of Anni Dewani who was murdered while on her honeymoon in South Africa in 2010, is to walk free from jail on July 28 after serving just over half of his sentence. The 39-year-old had his original sentence cut from 25 years to 18 after he agreed to turn state witness and his evidence implicated Dewani and two more men in the murder plot. The prosecutors desperately needed evidence to implicate newly married Shrien Dewani who was spending his honeymoon in Cape Town when the murder took place. In 2010 it was widely believed that Shrien Dewani organised a murder for hire plot to kill her new wife, but as the facts in the case unfolded it became apparent that Shrien was indeed framed by a corrupt and money greedy group of thugs. The real killers were eager to turn state witness and provided false accusations against Dewani in order to have their sentences cut. During the court case which followed it became obvious that no one could trust their lies and deceit and the case against Dewani collapsed in spectacular fashion.
Anni, who was 28, was killed in Tongo’s taxi after Mr Dewani and the driver were allowed out of the cab by two gangsters before his bride was shot through the neck as she cowered in the back seat of the cab.
Tongo, 31, was eventually found guilty of the crimes of kidnapping, robbery, murder and obstructing justice on Tuesday 7 Dec 2010.
Judge John Hope sentenced him to an effective 18 years in prison. Two other suspects in the case who Tongo implicated as well, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni, first denied involvement before they were due to stand trial in that February.
In a plea bargain read out in the Cape high court the morning, the couple’s driver, Zola Tongo – who became a witness for the state in the investigation into the murder on 13 November – claimed Dewani paid him 1,000 rand (£90) to organise the killing of his wife, Anni Dewani, which took place in a Cape township. Anni, a 28-year-old Swedish engineering graduate , was shot dead in Khayelitsha township two weeks after celebrating a traditional Hindu marriage ceremony in Mumbai with Dewani.
Rodney de Kock, director of public prosecutions for the Western Cape, were convinced at the time that: “The alleged hijacking was not a hijacking but part of a plan of subterfuge which Shrien Dewani and the accused [Tongo] had designed to conceal true facts … that the deceased was murdered at the instance of her husband.”
As Tongo, dressed in a blue shirt, stood in the dock with his head bowed, De Kock read his confession to the court. It said Tongo met the couple on 12 November at Cape Town airport. That much appeared to be true. Tongo drove the couple to their hotel and, “after we arrived, Shrien Dewani approached me alone and asked me if I knew anyone that could ‘have a client of his taken off the scene, a woman’,” he said. According to Tongo, Dewani was “willing to pay an amount of R15,000. The true facts were that Dewani said he had US dollars and asked if Tongo knew of a place where he could exchange US dollars for rand without producing his passport.”
Closer to the truth might be the fact that at this stage Tongo realised that he had just met a couple of tourists who appeared to have enough cash to be robbed by him and his friends in a devious plan which they might even have implemented before on unsuspecting tourists.
Tongo claims he approached a friend, Monde Mbolombo, working at a hotel in Century City – who put him in touch with Qwabe their hitman. Tongo claims Monde wanted R5,000 for the job, leaving R10,000 for the hitman or hitmen.
Tongo stated that on the Saturday night, he took the couple to see sights in Cape Town before driving them to Gugulethu township. But the truth is that they actually missed the rendezvous with the hitmen, he claims, and he then had no choice but to drive them to a restaurant in Somerset West, about 30 miles (48km) from Cape Town, for supper. But even though the plan started with a glitch, Tongo says he was in regular mobile phone contact with Qwale, and brought the couple back to Gugulethu for the staged hijacking.
During the highjacking, “Qwabe got in at the driver’s side and Mngeni got in at the back,” Tongo said. “The Dewanis were made to lie down on the back seat and Qwabe drove off. Shrien Dewani and I continued to pretend that we were being hijacked.” The people carrier, a silver Volkswagen Sharan, was found the next day in Khayelitsha township with Anni’s body in the back seat.
But Tongos blatent lies did not stop there. Tongo’s confession concludes: “Subsequent to the deceased’s death, I met with Shrien Dewani at the hotel on 16 November, where I received R1,000 as payment for my role in orchestrating the murder, robbery and kidnapping of the deceased.” Upon closer investigation it appeared that Dewani merely paid Tongo for the Taxi service her rendered. No other part of the R15 000 could ever be traced, except for a mere R4000 they stole from Dewani on the night of the hijacking.
The publicist Max Clifford, who has been hired by Dewani, told the media his client thought the allegation of involvement in his wife’s murder is “absurd and obscene”, and that he was “totally innocent of the horrendous crime”.
Clifford said: “It’s horrendous enough what happened and to have this on top of it is an absolute nightmare. We have got reservations about what has been given as evidence today; let’s see what evidence there is to back up these accusations.”
Dewani was eventually extradited to South Africa at great cost to stand trial. One of the hitmen, dying of a brain tumour, refused to implicate Dewani in the murder. Shrien was eventually cleared following a drawn-out trial and a mental breakdown.
Dewani had returned to Britain within days of the murder and fought a three-year legal battle to avoid being extradited to South Africa, claiming he had mental health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress. But he was sent back to South Africa in April, where he was found fit to stand trial and was held at a psychiatric hospital for the duration of the trial.
Judge Jeanette Traverso set Dewani free in December 2014 after his counsel applied for his discharge‚ saying the state’s case against him was based on lies.
Key witnesses Zola Tongo‚ Mziwamadoda Qwabe — both convicted of Anni’s murder — and Monde Mbolombo had contradicted each other.
Traverso found the trio had “twisted evidence” to incriminate Dewani.
She picked apart the testimony of Tongo‚ the only man able to link Dewani to the crime‚ and concluded:
“One does not know where the lies end and the truth begins.”
Traverso said in her ruling that it was regrettable that there were so many unanswered questions about what had happened on the night Anni was killed. But she had taken an oath and had to rely on the evidence before her — it was insufficient and she was left with no other choice but to let Dewani go‚ she said.
Tongo’s co-accused, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni, were sentenced to life. Mngeni died in jail from a brain tumour.
Tongo was sent to Malmesbury prison for his sentence where he admitted to a fellow prison inmate that his kidnap plan had backfired, and he framed Dewani for the murder.
WHO IS ZOLA TONGO?
Arrested five days after Dewani’s murder, Tongo, 31, a father of five from Bothasig, pleaded guilty in the Western Cape High Court to charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravated circumstances and obstructing the administration of justice and was sentenced to 18 years in jail, a reduced sentence as part of a plea bargain with the state.
In court documents Tongo said he had been struggling financially and, when Shrien Dewani had approached him with an offer of R15 000 if he helped orchestrate his wife’s murder, Tongo had agreed. But yet again that appeared to be another lie on his part, as pure greed seemed to have been the motive rather. His aunt said Tongo, “a very good person”, had always been a hard worker and had appeared to be well off. “He was always driving a posh car. I don’t know what went wrong.” Neither she nor other family members were aware of any financial difficulties. The documents said Tongo financially supported his sister and had supplemented his mother’s income. She worked as a domestic worker.
The aunt said that shortly before Anni Dewani’s murder her 15-year-old nephew had been killed when he was stabbed 15 times. The family had heard about Anni Dewani’s murder, which happened on November 13, around the time they had buried the teenager. They had felt sorry for the Dewani family who were suffering a loss similar to theirs, and had not connected Tongo to the incident. Only when Tongo’s name had appeared in newspapers, which said he had been driving the Dewanis around when the hijacking took place, did his family realise he was linked to the incident.
“He didn’t say anything about it to us.”
“We were devastated. His mother collapsed and was admitted to hospital. Zola’s 15-year-old sister was writing exams at that time, but was so, so traumatised,” she said.
Tongo had once been married but had divorced. He had been living with a girlfriend at the time of Dewani’s murder. At the time of his arrest he had five children, aged 10, two aged five, a three-year-old and an infant.
Anni’s uncle‚ Ashok Hindocha made it clear to media that “We have not moved on or had a word from Shrien. We accept he did not murder Anni‚ but he lied to us and had a very secret gay life. He owes us an apology for his lies.” Shrien still hasn’t made time to sit down and talk with us.
Last year in May Anni Dewani’s father, Vinod Hindocha, came face to face with his daughter’s killer in the hope of learning the truth behind her murder. Hindocha and his brother Ashok met Zola Tongo in his cell, where he is serving an 18-year sentence. The Hindochas were meeting Tongo because they feel that he knows more about the murder and withheld details from prosecutors after he was given a lesser jail term in exchange for helping the police in their investigation. The meeting is part of a restorative justice meeting organised by the Department of Correctional Services.
The meeting came just a week before Tongo’s appeal for parole was heard. He was eligible from September and Dewani’s family were expected to submit an impact statement to the parole board.
But the Hindocha family believe Tongo is shedding crocodile tears in his hope of getting an early release.
The Correctional Services Department said that Zola Tongo is set to appear before the parole board this month. (July 2020).