Convicted taxi driver called to the stand in Dewani case

The Western Cape High Court on Monday heard testimony from taxi driver Zola Tongo, as well as from gay male escort, Leipold Leisser, in Shrien Dewani's murder trial. (Reuters)

The Western Cape High Court on Monday heard testimony from taxi driver Zola Tongo, as well as from gay male escort, Leipold Leisser, in Shrien Dewani's murder trial. (Reuters)

A convicted shuttle taxi driver told the Western Cape High Court on Monday how he met murder-accused businessperson Shrien Dewani in 2010.

Zola Tongo (34) was called as the state’s 12th witness in Dewani’s trial, and was flanked by two correctional services guards as he testified. 

Tongo was at the Cape Town International airport awaiting customers on the afternoon of November 12 2010, when he was approached by Dewani outside. The taxi driver was standing with another man, smoking.

Prosecutor Shareen Riley asked if Dewani was alone, and Tongo confirmed so, saying that Dewani was pushing a trolley with some luggage on it. “He came to me, approached me, asking where he can get transportation to town.
I responded with confidence that it is actually my job, saying to him where are you going to. He said to me he is going to the Cape Grace.”

He told Dewani that other taxis charged exorbitant fees and that he would charge a lower price.

Dewani told him he was with his wife and instructed him to wait. Tongo said while he waited, he saw (Anni Dewani) approaching from the inside of the airport. “She came to where we were standing near the door, then the gentleman explained to her that he had found a motor vehicle that was going to take them to town. I had introduced myself while we were busy walking.”

Tongo said he introduced himself as Zola, and said he never used the name Robert because he did not like it. When Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso asked what was the significance of this, Riley responded that Dewani had claimed in his plea explanation that Tongo introduced himself as Robert.

Tongo said that while they were walking to the vehicle, Anni Dewani asked him why he had parked at the lower parking area, and not where other vehicles were parked. He told her that he was still waiting for a permit to park in the airport’s taxi area. 

He then went to pay for his parking ticket and took the couple to his silver-grey VW Sharan. “I tried at all means as a new businessperson to sell myself or to market myself to these people,” he said.

Tongo is serving an 18-year jail sentence for his role in Anni Dewani’s murder.

In court, Shrien Dewani stared at Tongo, not breaking his gaze.

Tongo: Anni Dewani was quiet in the car
Dewani is accused of the murder of his wife during their honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010. He has pleaded not guilty to the five counts against him, maintaining that the couple were the victims of a hijacking.

The State alleges that he conspired with others to stage the hijacking in return for R15 000. Anni Dewani’s slumped body was found in the abandoned shuttle taxi in Khayelitsha the following day, November 14 2010.

Tongo told the court that as he packed their luggage, he spoke highly of the Cape Grace Hotel where they were staying.

Riley asked if he had ever done transfers from the hotel, and Tongo said he had sometimes transported people from there to the airport.

He told the couple about the informal settlements and townships near the airport. “I also explained to them about the importance of the township that was just next to the squatter camp. It’s Gugulethu. I explained to them that most of our visitors or tourists liked to go to places where they are braaing meat and that place is known to everybody. The name of the place is called Kwa-Mzoli,” Tongo said.

“Everybody who is arriving here enjoys themselves and that person will never forget how nice or good Cape Town is.”

Riley asked if he knew how long the couple were in Cape Town for and he said he did not.

Tongo said it was quiet in the car and they only asked a few questions. “The husband was the one asking the questions. She was quiet.” The taxi driver said that he always tried to make people trust him or have confidence in his services.

Relevance of gay escort’s testimony in question
Earlier on Monday a gay male escort whose services were procured by Dewani testified for a few minutes.

Leipold Leisser (43) was called as the state’s 11th witness to testify on his three meetings with Dewani in 2009 and 2010.

Dressed in a charcoal suit and red tie, Leisser sat in the witness stand with a German translator next to him. Dewani stared at him from the dock and then lowered his head.

Leisser said he initially had a private profile on gay fetish website Recon, and then created a commercial website for himself under the name “Gay Master One” in 2009. H e said he offered services such as role play, sadomasochism, and fetishes.

Prosecutor Adrian Mopp said it was not in dispute that Dewani paid for his services on September 18 2009, February 4 2010, and 17 April 2010, and that the two had email communication.

At the first and second meeting, Dewani went to Leisser’s home and slept over. “It was unusual, and in fact he was the first ever client I allowed to stay at my home. He asked me to sleep over,” Leisser said.

Pieter Botha, for Dewani, interrupted to ask what the relevance of the evidence was. Traverso also questioned the relevance, having earlier refused evidence related to Dewani’s sexuality, ruling it was irrelevant.

Mopp said he was trying to show the court the context of Dewani’s relationship with his wife.

Traverso said it was common cause that Dewani spent nights with Leisser and that he slept with other men. She said that when it came to evidence “of this nature”, she always thought twice before admitting it.

Mopp said the context was that Dewani disclosed to Leisser that he was about to be engaged and could not find a way out without being disowned by his family.

Traverso said Dewani had previously broken off another engagement, and asked Mopp to argue why she should allow the evidence. Mopp responded, saying that the court would eventually be confronted with the question of why Dewani would commit such a crime and that this evidence would assist it.

Traverso said both the state and defence should provide her with written arguments on why the evidence should or should not be admitted.

Leisser was asked to stand down in the meantime.

State expert concedes front shot was ‘impossible’  
Also testifying on Monday, a ballistics expert conceded that it would have been impossible to fire a shot from the front seat of the hijacked shuttle taxi that Dewani and his wife were travelling in.

Xolile Mngeni was convicted in 2012 of firing the fatal shot from the front passenger seat of the hijacked vehicle. He died from a brain tumour on October 18.

Botha put it to state witness Warrant Officer Pieter Engelbrecht that his testimony on ballistics was incorrect, and that their own expert had concluded it was impossible. “I do accept that it would have been difficult to fire the shot from the front if he [the shooter] was in a seated position,” Engelbrecht said.

According to Botha, their expert had used a similar vehicle, and a model of a similar height and build as Anni. He then adjusted the car seats to resemble those in the crime scene photographs, positioning the model in the rear seat by aligning the exit wound with the bullet defect in the original seat.

The defence expert then found that it would have been impossible for the shooter to reach the grip of the pistol had it been placed at Anni’s chest in the rear seat.

Engelbrecht also conceded that it would have been possible for the gun to go off accidentally if enough pressure was placed on the trigger. – Sapa

Client Media Releases

ContinuitySA wins IRMSA Award
Three NHBRC offices experience connectivity issues
What risks are South African travellers facing?
UKZN performs well in university rankings
Call for papers opens for ITWeb Security Summit 2019