Sentence a shock to driver’s family

Taxi driver Zola Tongo refused to allow his attorney to tell his family that he would go to jail for 18 years after signing a plea and sentencing agreement with the state and confessing to his central part in the alleged plot to kill newlywed Anni Dewani.

He also asked attorney William da Grass to set up a meeting with Anni’s father, Vinod Hindocha, so he could apologise for her murder. But the devastated father, who remained in South Africa this week to help the authorities, declined to meet Tongo because he was too emotional.

Anni’s brother, Anish, told the Mail & Guardian from the family home in Mariestad, Sweden, that life would be unbearable without his beloved sister.

“She was the most beautiful and innocent person. She was always the one who made up the games we play. She was the glue in our family.”

In Cape Town, Tongo’s family wept in court when they heard his confession and sentence. They believed he was a state witness and might be given another identity in a witness-protection programme after giving evidence.

Anni’s father also wiped tears from his eyes and had to be held up after he heard Tongo’s confession read out in the Western Cape High Court on Monday. Clutching a photograph of his beautiful murdered daughter, he had to be helped to a waiting vehicle by police.

The shock
Tongo’s aunt, nurse Pumla Ngoza, said it was “the most shocking experience” to hear for the first time in court that he would serve 18 years.

“Why did Zola not give us an explanation about what his involvement was in the murder? He has never been involved in crime and he told us nothing. If he so badly needed R1 000, why didn’t he come to us?”

A first-time offender, 31-year-old Tongo is the father of five children and, although his lawyer arranged meetings with his family after his arrest, he failed to tell them what was going on.

While Ngoza claimed his family was using its meagre savings to pay his legal fees, Da Grass said he was informed Tongo had paid for his services. “I was acting on the instructions from my client not to divulge anything to them with regard to the sentence,” said Da Grass.

“I reaffirmed this with him shortly before he appeared in court, in fact, it was a matter of minutes before he appeared. I found it surprising that he did not want me to inform his family, but instructions are instructions, and I had to abide by it.”

If Tongo had gone to trial his jail term would have been far longer. The prescribed sentence for premeditated murder alone is life and prisoners can qualify for parole only after serving 25 years. Tongo was charged with murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and the obstruction of justice.

With good behaviour, Tongo, described by his family as “humble and kind”, could qualify for parole after nine to 12 years.

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