JOHANNESBURG – The South African man who drove a Swedish bride to her death after allegedly being hired by her British husband to kill her on their honeymoon pleaded guilty Wednesday to the slaying and received a 25-year prison sentence after offering chilling details about the killing.
Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 27, described in a statement how he wore yellow gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints the November 2010 night he and alleged accomplice Xolile Mngeni kidnapped and killed Anni Dewani. Qwabe said he helped carry out the killing of the 28-year-old bride for only 15,000 rand (about $2,100), and said he knew her accompanying husband Shrien Dewani paid for the slaying and wanted her dead.
While Shrien Dewani fights extradition to South Africa and continues to deny he orchestrated the killing, Qwabe's testimony offers a second account implicating him in his wife's death.
Judge John Hlophe of the Western Cape High Court accepted Qwabe's guilty plea Wednesday on charges of kidnapping, robbery, murder and illegal possession of a firearm, sentencing him to 25 years in prison. Lawyers and prosecutors also met with Mngeni, who will return to court Monday for the possible start of his trial over Dewani's killing, said Eric Ntabazalila, a spokesman for South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority.
Qwabe and Mngeni's trial has been postponed several times due to Mngeni's poor health. Mngeni had surgery to remove a brain tumor in June 2011.
The Dewanis were honeymooning in South Africa in November 2010, only two weeks after their marriage, when Shrien Dewani allegedly asked taxi driver Zola Tongo if he knew of anyone who could kill his wife, investigators say. A third man put Qwabe and Tongo in touch, where they planned to fake a car hijacking in Cape Town's impoverished Gugulethu township, Qwabe said.
"The kidnapping and robbery were part of the plan to make it appear that this was a random criminal act, unconnected to (Tongo) and the husband," Qwabe's statement read.
The two men hijacked the car late at night and made a point to steal Anni Dewani's Giorgio Armani wristwatch, a white gold and diamond bracelet, her purse and mobile phone, Qwabe said. As the two men dropped off the husband and Tongo, the taxi driver leaned over to whisper their money was hidden inside the car, Qwabe said.
As Qwabe drove, Mngeni kept a 7.62 mm pistol pointed at Anni Dewani in the backseat until he pulled the trigger, the fatal shot going through her neck, the statement read. Panicked, Qwabe said he stopped the car and got out, helping Mngeni find the spent bullet casing. He threw the casing into a sewer as they ran away into the night.
Officials at first thought the crime was robbery in South Africa, where violent crime is high but attacks on foreign tourists are rare. Later, however, Tongo testified that Shrien Dewani offered him money to organize the killing, pleading guilty to the slaying and receiving an 18-year prison sentence.
Dewani has denied he hired anyone to kill his wife and was allowed by authorities to leave South Africa for the United Kingdom, where he was later arrested. In March, a U.K. High Court ruled that it would be "unjust and oppressive" to extradite Dewani to South Africa, as his mental condition had worsened since his arrest there. Dewani's lawyer told the court in a hearing July 31 that he needed at least a year to recover from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder before being potentially sent back to South Africa.
Ashok Hindocha, Anni Dewani's uncle, said Wednesday that her family was pleased by Qwabe pleading guilty, but that they still "want to know what really happened."
"The way we feel is that we are going through legal torture," Hindocha told the U.K. Press Association. "It is extremely stressful for the family."
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.