7 Apr 2014

Shrien Dewani returns to South Africa – what now?

The British man accused of plotting his wife’s murder while on honeymoon in South Africa will fly there tonight after losing a three-year legal battle to stay in Britain. What happens now?

Two newly-weds, one honeymoon and a murder that changed everything.

Shrien Dewani, once a thriving businessman, remains accused of ordering the killing of his Swedish wife, Anni Hindocha, during a night out in Cape Town weeks after a lavish wedding ceremony in Mumbai.

Mr Dewani denies all the charges. Instead he has fought a three-year legal battle to stay in Britain arguing that the post-traumatic stress and depression suffered after his wife’s death has left him mentally unfit to stand trial.

Despite numerous questions that continue to pile up in the aftermath of his wife’s death, Mr Dewani has remained in a psychiatric unit near his home in Britain. But last month, in an extraordinary twist of events, London’s high court dismissed his final appeal to remain. Tonight, accompanied by medical staff, he will fly to Cape Town.

The first priority will be for South African judges to decide whether Mr Dewani is fit to stand trial. Should the decision be upheld, they will then rule on whether to keep him in a prison or medical facility. And should he be declared unfit, South Africa has promised Britain he will be returned to the UK within 18 months.

Shrien Dewani and Anni Hidocha on safari in South Africa – four days before her murder in a township outside Cape Town.

The night of 13 November 2010

Mr Dewani denies any involvement in the killing of his wife, who was shot in November 2010 as the taxi the couple were travelling in was apparently carjacked in the Gugulethu township, some 10 miles out of Cape Town. He claims the pair were kidnapped at gunpoint.

Mr Dewani was released unharmed. The next day his 28-year-old wife’s body was found in the abandoned car.

A South African man, Xolile Mngeni, has since been convicted of the murder and jailed for life.

Zola Tongo, a taxi driver, was jailed for 18 years after he admitted his part in the killing while another accomplice, Mziwamadoda Qwabe, pleaded guilty to murder and received a 25-year prison sentence.

Both testified that Mr Dewani had ordered the murder.

Back in Britain

Meanwhile Mr Dewani mental health has steadily got worse, leading to him being detained in a Bristol hospital where he has remained for nearly two years.

His family said he was committed to returning “when his health would permit a full trial and when appropriate protections are in place for his health and safety”. But that has looked increasingly unlikely.

Now authorities in South Africa will have to decide for themselves. Mr Dewani’s lawyers are expected to argue that he remains unfit to stand trial.

But Katherine Reece-Thomas, director of public international law at City University, told Channel 4 News that unlike extradition arrangements with some countries, Britain has a fairly good record with South Africa.

“Dewani arrives with full assurances that South Africa will comply to the letter of their law. This is a serious crime committed in South Africa and our courts are perfectly confident in the judicial system there. Were it the other way around, we would expect to extradite someone of South African origin to face trial here.”

Nonetheless, Mr Dewani’s hearing coincides with the Oscar Pistorious trial, and is likely to put the country’s legal system under further international scrutiny.

Should it reach trial, for example, there will be no jury. Trial by jury was abolished in South Africa under apartheid in 1969, a fact that has horrified many observers, though several white South African lawyers fought for it on the basis that black defendants would not receive a fair trial from white jurors.

Eager for answers: Anni Hidocha’s sister, Ami Denborg last year, flanked by brother Anish Hidocha (left) and father Vinod Hidocha (right).

South Africa’s next test

Tested too will be the image of South Africa, whose tourism suffered in the wake of the 2010 incident.

Media from all over the world will be in attendance. As will representatives from both families, who have barely spoken to one another since the incident. They include Anni Hidocha’s sister Ami Denborg and her father Vinod Hindocha who have made impassioned pleas for the Mr Dewani to return to South Africa to face trial.

Mr Hidocha recently said: “There is a sense of relief that Shrien is going back. I just want the truth so that I can begin mourning properly.”

It has taken more than three years, but tomorrow his wish may finally be granted.