As a biting wind combined with patches of rain thinned out the media circus at the High Court in city of Cape Town on day three of the murder trial, the rift between two families continued. They spent the day studiously ignoring each other on opposite sides of the courtroom.
Yet they are bound forever by the death of a daughter and – even a in customary marriage – a daughter-in-law.
The Hindocha family requested media not refer to the murdered woman as Dewani’s wife, as they were only joined in a customary Hindu marriage which, according to them, has no legal standing.
Another custom has developed in Judge Jeannette Traverso’s courtroom, centered on sound; or rather the lack thereof, or the feedback screech or the cavernous echo from the nightclub sized speakers mounted on the walls.
When court was in session, roughly three hours in total out of a possible seven, more questions were asked than answered as defence advocate Francois van Zyl dropped any pretence at being a kindly, silver-haired grandfatherly figure with a hearing problem, as he circled his prey in the witness box: convicted killer, turned State witness Mziwamadoda Qwabe.
As a reminder, the chain of events goes like this:
Dewani and Hindocha are hitched in what is now being called a customary Hindu wedding in India. They fly to South Africa as the country’s initials matched theirs, said Dewani in his not guilty plea explanation on Monday. They were met at the airport, completely by chance apparently, by Zola Tongo, who ferries them to their hotel.
Tongo – sent to prison for 18 years for his part in Hindocha’s death – said in his trial that Dewani offered him R15 000 to kill her.
Tongo then phoned Monde Mbolombe, a hotel receptionist, to see if he knew anyone. Mbolombe – who was given immunity from prosecution –phoned his friends Xolisile Mngeni and Qwabe.
Tongo goes on in his statement to say the crooked three, along with Dewani, hatched a plan to simulate a hijacking in which Hindocha would be killed.
This came to pass and all three men received lengthy sentences, with Mngeni as the triggerman receiving the toughest sentence: life imprisonment and terminal brain cancer.
Mbolombe has never spent a day behind bars as he turned State witness; however Van Zyl believes Mbolombe may have been economical with the truth. As apparently was Tongo, as was Qwabe.
It is doubted Mngeni will make it to the stand, ill as he is. It doesn’t stop Van Zyl taking bites out of Qwabe however.
‘Who took the money out of Tongo’s vehicle, and when? Mbolombe played a much bigger role didn’t he? How much more of a role? Who arranged for gloves? How did a mark on Hindocha’s left outer calf get there?’ were some of the questions Van Zyl threw endlessly at Qwabe.
Qwabe admitted on Wednesday he suffered from a “weak memory” and it was obvious on Thursday nothing had changed.
He battled to answer Van Zyl’s questions, repeatedly coming back with “I don’t recall that conversation” or “I don’t remember”.
When confronted with documentary evidence, he would change his answer to “It is possible and I cannot dispute it…” before qualifying his answer with “…but I do not remember”.
It became a typical exchange between Van Zyl and Qwabe. This one is about the money purportedly paid by Dewani:
VZ: Did you see him remove the money?
Q: No, he told me.
VZ: By the time the deceased was shot, he already had it.
Qwabe: Yes, sir.
VZ: You were driving, so you asked him if he had the money?
However a little later it was another roundabout with:
Qwabe: After I heard the shot, I took the first left into Ilitha Park. I stopped the car. [Mngeni] removed the money
VZ: By this, I understand that Watti removed the money, after you had stopped the vehicle?
By now thoroughly confused, Qwabe would only say he, Qwabe, never took the money.
It was during lunchtime Qwabe pleaded illness as court began.
The proceedings were brought to an immediate halt as Traverso remanded the case to Monday.