So – what really happened?

Despite sensational media coverage alleging that this crime constituted the ultimate betrayal of a wife by her husband of two weeks, the evidence presented at trial showed that Anni Dewani’s death was not the result of a contract killing. In fact, the only evidence in support of the allegation that the crime was a pre-planned murder came from the mouths of the criminals who arranged and carried out the disasterous armed robbery that resulted in Anni’s death. The same individuals later found to have perjured themselves in exchange for attractive plea deals and drastically reduced prison sentences.

Although there remain some unknowns about that fateful evening, based on the evidence presented in court and the conclusions reached by Justice Traverso in the 2014 trial of Shrien Dewani, it is possible to put together a timeline and evidence-supported narrative that closely approximates the true course of events.

Waiting outside Cape Town International Airport, taxi driver Zola Robert Tongo is randomly approached by the Dewani couple who hire him as their driver and defacto tour guide. Whether on the look-out for a soft target, or simply succumbing to opportunism, Tongo makes the ill-fated decision to betray his affluent clients for his own financial gain.

Unbeknown to the Dewanis, soon after bidding them farewell on the night he meets them, Tongo contacts his friend, hotel receptionist Monde Mbolombo, advising that he has identified a mark. Tongo tells Mbolombo that in addition to the couple being well dressed and bearing expensive jewellery, Mr Dewani has also agreed to pay R10,000 cash for a surprise helicopter ride for his new bride. Furthermore he can be persuaded to bring the money out with him the following evening, ostensibly to pay the pilot in person to secure an attractive price for the excursion. The pair set about discussing how they can exploit the situation and devise a plan that involves Tongo taking the couple on an evening tour of the Gugulethu township, where they will fall victim to a seemingly random car-jacking in which cash and valuables (later valued at over R90,000) will be stolen. Tongo would report the hijacking to police and play the innocent victim.

Mbolombo recruits local street thugs Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni to carry out the hijacking operation. After pulling over the taxi at gun-point and robbing the terrified Dewanis as planned, the hijackers eject first Tongo and then Shrien Dewani from the vehicle before eventually stopping the vehicle in a residential area with a hysterical Anni Dewani screaming in fear. The evidence in the 2014 trial of Shrien Dewani showed that Qwabe exited the vehicle, opened the rear door, and was involved in a struggle with Anni during which the firearm discharged and a single bullet penetrated Anni’s hand and neck. Whether fired accidentally, or to silence her screaming, the bullet severed an artery, leading to the tragic loss of Anni’s young life. She was 28 years old.

Whilst not as salacious and compelling a tale as the “murder for hire” story of betrayal peddled by the hapless NPA and SAPS, and facilitated by the media, this more mundane narrative aligns with all the known facts of the case, including the frank initial confessions of three of the four known perpetrators of the crime.

The sexual liasons and admitted double life of Anni’s husband, Shrien Dewani, although providing the prosecution with an alleged alternate motive for Anni’s killing, turned out to be a coincidental and uncompelling back story unrelated to the crime. CCTV footage of Dewani giving an envelope payment to Tongo turned out to be naive generosity; Dewani settling the agreed taxi fare as he felt sorry for Tongo whom he still believed to be an innocent victim of a crime which cost him his car and his livelihood.

Judge Traverso, in concluding that there was no credible evidence whatsoever in which to sustain a conviction, halted the trial of Mr Dewani after hearing the prosecutions case. Mr Dewani was not required to mount a defence.

If you are interested in learning more about this case, read through the content on this site. We provide a comprehensive list of claims, as well as a series of popular articles such as “Did Shrien Dewani get away with murder?” that analyse the evidence and the trials that took place, including the highly controversial trial of hijacker Xolie Mngeni.