JOHANNESBURG – One month after a verdict in the Oscar Pistorius trial, South African justice is again under international scrutiny as prosecutors press a murder case against a British man accused of hiring local men to kill his wife on their 2010 honeymoon and make it look like a botched carjacking.
Murder suspect Shrien Dewani, who fought extradition from Britain for years, is not globally known like Pistorius, the double-amputee athlete who killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, was convicted of the lesser charge of culpable homicide and faces sentencing next week. Also, unlike the Pistorius trial, the trial of Dewani is not being shown on live television.
Yet the case against Dewani, who pleaded not guilty Monday, launched another sensational courtroom drama involving the shooting death of a young woman, whose family desperately hopes the South African judicial system can deliver clarity four years after Anni Dewani died.
"It has been a period of torture for our family," Vinod Hindocha, Anni Dewani's father, said before the Cape Town trial started. "Now it's up to the South African legal system to hear the case and obtain the full story of how my little daughter died."
Dewani, a wealthy businessman with a jet-set lifestyle who also faces robbery and kidnapping charges, outlined his version of events in a statement submitted by lawyers.
In the statement, Dewani describes hiring a private jet to fly his fiancee to Paris and mentions a helicopter trip during a bachelor's party in Las Vegas, as well as his traditional wedding in India. He says he sometimes argued with Anni Dewani, though maintains they were devoted. He says he consorted with male prostitutes and acknowledges surfing gay websites soon after his wife's death — apparently a defense attempt to pre-empt any prosecution effort to argue that Dewani murdered because he felt trapped in the marriage.
Dewani also describes frequent phone calls and text messages with a taxi driver that he says were communications about vacation plans while in Cape Town, as well as being ordered to get out of a moving car by assailants who had commandeered it.
"I recall hitting the ground and the car speeding away," Dewani says. "The last thing I had said to Anni was to be quiet and not to say anything. I said this to her in Gujarati."
The taxi driver, Zola Tongo, is one of three men who were sentenced to long prison terms for Anni Dewani's murder.
George Bizos, a human rights lawyer, said there is a "fundamental difference" between the Dewani case and that of Pistorius, who said he shot Steenkamp through a closed toilet door in his home because he mistook her for an intruder. There was "no direct evidence" that Pistorius acted maliciously, according to Bizos.
In the Dewani trial, however, "there is direct evidence of incitement to kill by people who have already been convicted," he said. "The question is, are they telling the truth or is there a false motive?"
Judge Thokozile Masipa, one of the first black female judges in South Africa, delivered the Pistorius verdict. South Africa does not have a jury system. The penalty for a culpable homicide conviction ranges from a suspended sentence and a fine to as many as 15 years in prison.
Jeanette Traverso, a senior judge, will rule in the Dewani trial, which is expected to end in December. Traverso has shown little patience for delays, according to Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in the public law department at the University of Cape Town.
The judge has, Phelps said, "been quite stern and straightforward about the fact that the justice process comes first and the people's interest in it comes second."