Justice Minister Michael Masutha on Thursday acknowledged receipt of a petition calling for the recusal of the judge in British businessman Shrien Dewani’s trial.
His spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said he would study the “Justice4Anni” group’s comprehensive petition and respond accordingly.
“However, we need to indicate that the matter is before a court of law and therefore subject to judicial determination by the said presiding judge and it would be inappropriate for the minister to comment on the case,” he said.
“The minister also respects the independence of the judiciary as enshrined in our Constitution.”
The Facebook group handed over the petition, with 2401 signatures, and a dossier to the justice department in Cape Town on Thursday morning.
The petition called on Masutha to dismiss Western Cape High Court Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso, investigate her “biased” conduct during the trial, and order a re-trial with a new judge.
Dewani is on trial for allegedly plotting with shuttle bus driver Zola Tongo and others to kill his wife Anni while they were on honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges including kidnapping, murder, and defeating the ends of justice.
The court is expected to rule on Monday whether Dewani should be discharged of Anni’s murder. Should his discharge application be successful he would be free to return to the United Kingdom.
Justice4Anni compiled a 22-page dossier on Traverso’s conduct during the trial, analysing live tweets from journalists, live news feeds on websites, and news articles.
While it had obtained briefs from individuals who attended court proceedings, it had not directly accessed the official court record.
The group stated that if its findings were true, Traverso had a disregard for fairness and was rude towards the State while being friendly to the defence.
It believed Traverso had refused to allow key prosecution evidence from being submitted without explanation and had made an incorrect statement in court.
According to the group Traverso had over-relied on Dewani’s plea explanation, which had not been tested by questioning or cross-examination.
Dewani claims the couple was hijacked while shuttle bus driver Zola Tongo drove them through Gugulethu in his minibus on Saturday, November 13, 2010. He was released unharmed and Anni was driven away. She was found shot dead in the abandoned minibus in Khayelitsha the next morning.
The State alleges he conspired with others to stage the hijacking for which he paid R15,000. Dewani maintains Tongo helped him organise a surprise helicopter trip for Anni for R15,000.
On Wednesday, her brother Anish Hindocha appealed to Dewani to give the court the full story of what happened the night she was killed.
He told reporters in Cape Town he expected Dewani’s trial to continue on Monday and for his discharge application to be dismissed.
Should the full facts of her murder not emerge, it would remain on the country’s conscience forever, he said.
“It will also mean a lifetime of torture for me and my family, especially my mom and dad.”
Tongo is serving an 18-year jail term and Mziwamadoda Qwabe a 25-year jail term. Xolile Mngeni was serving life in jail for firing the shot that killed Anni, but died in prison from a brain tumour on October 18.
Hotel receptionist Monde Mbolombo was granted immunity from prosecution on two charges during Mngeni’s trial. He was however warned he faced possible prosecution on various charges if he did not testify truthfully during Dewani’s trial. SAPA