The family of a murdered Swedish bride whose millionaire husband was cleared of her killing have blasted the decision by a South African judge not to put him on the stand during his sensational trial.
Ami Denborg told reporters the testimony of her brother-in-law, British businessperson Shrien Dewani, would have been the only way for her family to learn the truth about what happened the night her sister Anni was killed.
Dewani walked free in Cape Town on Monday after a shock judgement by Judge Jeannette Traverso saw him cleared him of murdering his 28-year-old wife during their honeymoon in South Africa.
The decision in what became known as the “honeymoon murder” case left Dewani’s mother weeping with relief in court, while his late wife’s family wept bitter tears.
Prosecutors said Dewani hired hitmen to kill Anni in a staged hijacking in a Cape Town township in November 2010, because he is gay and felt trapped into marriage by family pressures.
Dewani says he is bisexual and loved Anni.
Traverso said the state’s evidence had “fallen far below” the level needed to secure a conviction, and it would be unjust to force Dewani to testify in his own defence.
The judge conceded there were “a number of unanswered questions” about the murder, and acknowledged “strong public opinion” that Dewani should take the stand.
Traverso also noted a plea by the murdered woman’s family that Dewani should not be allowed to walk free without testifying, but said her ruling was based on law and could not be influenced by emotion.
‘We just want to know what happened’
Anni’s family criticised the decision in an interview with Britain’s Sky News Monday.
“It is a disappointment to all our family,” Denborg said.
“We don’t really care if he’s innocent or guilty, we just want to know what happened to Anni. The only way we could have found out … was to actually hear Shrien under court examination, under oath, telling his version of events on the night.”
If Dewani was bisexual, she added, “maybe he shouldn’t have got married to her”.
Brother Anish Hindocha added: “We only heard half the story.”
Earlier, speaking to an international media scrum on the steps of the high court, Denborg said: “Justice failed us”.
Dewani to leave South Africa
The ruling is a blow to the reputation of South Africa’s state prosecutors, coming after a lengthy and costly battle to extradite Dewani from Britain after the murder.
It also follows their failure to secure a murder conviction against Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius at his equally sensational trial earlier this year for shooting dead his girfriend.
Prosecutors told Agence France-Presse they cannot appeal, and Dewani (34) was expected to leave South Africa as soon as possible.
Anni was killed with a single shot, execution style, prosecutors said, after the hijackers allowed Dewani out of the vehicle and drove off with her.
Dewani said in his statement that he had offered R15 000 to the taxi driver to arrange a private helicopter tour of Cape Town as a surprise for his bride.
Prosecutors never got the chance to cross-examine Dewani on why he was willing to pay an unknown taxi driver so much in cash to organise a trip that could have been handled by his top-class hotel.
Taxi driver Zola Tongo and one of the hijackers – both serving long jail terms for the murder – told the court that Dewani hired them for R15 000 to kill his wife.
The judge said evidence given by Tongo that implicated Dewani was “highly improbable”.
The family has said Anni would not have married Dewani if she had known of his sexuality.
In a written statement to the court, Dewani admitted to sex with male prostitutes but said he considered himself bisexual.
The court also heard that Anni sent Dewani desperate emails just days after their lavish wedding ceremony in Mumbai questioning his “feelings” for her.
“I don’t want an insecure man or a man whose feelings doesn’t come naturally that you have to force yourself,” Anni wrote on November 5 2010.
She was killed eight days later.
ANCYL criticises ruling
The ANC Youth League in Tshwane on Tuesday said it was dejected by the high court ruling that saw Dewani walk free.
“We note with dejection the court judgment arrived at by Judge [Jeanette] Traverso to exonerate Shrien Dewani as a murder accused,” regional chairperson Lesego Makhubela said in a statement.
Makhubela said there was an overriding social interest in the case, particularly given the abuse of women and children in South Africa.
He said the ruling set a bad precedent in how the justice system dealt with crimes against women and children. He said Traverso should have looked at the entire picture instead of “the non-uniformity” in the state witnesses’ evidence.
Makhubela said the judgment gave additional credibility to claims that the South African justice system was compromised and easily manipulated by privileged persons. – AFP, additional reporting by Sapa.