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Dewani to stand trial next week

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British businessman Shrien Dewani is set to stand trial next week for allegedly murdering his wife Anni on their honeymoon in Cape Town in 2010.

Local and international media are expected to pack the benches of the Western Cape High Court when he appears before Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso on Monday.

Initially seen as a hijacking that ended in tragedy on Saturday night November 13, 2010, the incident took a darker turn when police claimed they had evidence that Dewani conspired with others to kill her.

Dewani claims the couple were hijacked as they were being driven through Gugulethu in a minibus taxi. He was released unharmed and Anni driven away. She was found shot dead in the abandoned minibus on Sunday, November 14.

A series of delays played out over the next four years, punctuated by efforts to extradite Dewani to South Africa and consistent claims by his defence that he was innocent and mentally unfit to stand trial.

In the same period, three Capetonians stood trial in connection with the murder and were jailed.

Driver Zola Tongo admitted guilt to murder in a plea bargain and was jailed for 18 years on December 7, 2010. He said in his plea that Dewani had offered him R15,000 to have Anni killed.

Mziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty to the murder in August 2012. He was jailed for 25 years.

Xolile Mngeni was convicted of Dewani’s murder on November 19, 2012. He received a life sentence.

Dewani was eventually extradited and appeared in the Western Cape High Court in April, where it was decided he would be treated at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital.

Soon after, director of public prosecutions Rodney de Kock brought an application for Dewani’s mental health to be officially observed in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.

In August, a report was handed up to the court by a panel of experts who evaluated him, including his psychiatrist, Prof Tuviah Zabow. They unanimously decided he was not mentally ill and therefore fit to stand trial. He would remain at Valkenberg Hospital for counselling and detention for the duration of the trial.

It would be the end of one long journey by the National Prosecuting Authority to have him stand trial, and the beginning of another to prove the charges, in a showdown set to last until December 12.

Questions have been raised as to whether the trial will be televised.

The public got a taste of court proceedings this year when paralympian Oscar Pistorius’s trial was televised live.

Both De Kock and Dewani’s lawyer Francois van Zyl made it clear, in letters to Traverso on Thursday, that they did not wish the same for this trial.

They had agreed that it was not in the interests of justice for the entire trial to be recorded electronically or broadcast by the media.

They were approached by Electronic Media Network, the broadcaster of Carte Blanche, for permission to record and broadcast the entire trial.

According to a letter from legal firm ENSafrica their client was vulnerable and could suffer a relapse. The firm recommended that the regime of not taking photos or broadcasting proceedings should remain in place for this reason. Additionally, they did not wish to jeopardise the credibility of certain witnesses.

Subsequent to the judge’s permission, they were prepared to allow the closing arguments and judgment to be recorded and broadcast live.

Regarding photography, Dewani’s lawyers believed a jostle of photographers could trigger a relapse.

They proposed a once-off chance of 15 minutes on Monday for photos and video to be taken 2m away from their client.

It was proposed that photographers be let into the court two at a time under the observation of the court orderlies and police officers.

On Friday, the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said it was not happy with this.

“We find this arrangement unacceptable and a violation of our rights. It also negates progress done in the Pistorius case,” said Sanef deputy chair Makhudu Sefara.

“We are doing our best to remedy the situation, but it might eventually require companies to send in their lawyers.”

He said Sanef had conducted tough and lengthy negotiations with the justice department and others to secure media arrangements.

Local media were allocated 22 seats inside court, a “major victory” from the initial allocation of 10 seats.

Sanef and members of the Foreign Correspondents Association were to be allocated 17 seats each.

The suggestion to have an overflow courtroom was turned down by the judge, he said.

“It is important to note that the final arrangement, though better than the initial one, is, in our view, not ideal. Sanef is thus still working hard behind the scenes with the hope that authorities will relent on the idea of an overflow room which, in our view, is the best solution to this challenge.” SAPA

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