South African court hears Briton Dewani agreed fee for wife's murder

Honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani sits in the dock before the start of his trial in Cape Town, October 6, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani sits in the dock before the start of his trial in Cape Town, October 6, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - British businessman Shrien Dewani agreed to pay 15,000 rand (833.5 pounds) to have his wife killed on their honeymoon in South Africa, a witness told a court on Wednesday, saying he had been asked to make the murder look like a hijacking.

Mziwamadoda Qwabe, a South African who is serving 25 years in jail for murdering Anni Dewani, told Cape Town's High Court that taxi-driver Zola Tongo had asked him to participate in a job for "a husband that wanted a wife to be killed".

Shrien Dewani on Monday denied all charges of conspiring to kill his wife in Cape Town in November 2010. Three South Africans, including Qwabe, are serving jail terms for her murder.

Qwabe told the court a 15,000-rand fee was agreed for a staged hijacking in Gugulethu township on the edge of Cape Town. He said Tongo had told him: "It must look like a hijacking."

Qwabe, who is the state's second witness, said he commandeered the car in which the Dewanis were travelling. Police later found Anni Dewani's body in the back seat with a single gunshot wound to the neck.

Under cross examination by defence advocate Francois van Zyl, Qwabe struggled to answer questions directly, often saying "I don't recall" or "It is possible".

Asked by Van Zyl whether he was prepared to do something illegal when first hearing about the "job", Qwabe said: "I'd say so, yes."

Qwabe is serving 25 years for murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and possession of an illegal gun, after reaching a plea bargain with state lawyers.

Tongo is serving 18 years under a similar deal, while a third man, Xolile Mngeni, was found guilty of shooting Anni Dewani and sentenced to life in prison.

Shrien Dewani denies plotting to kill his wife, saying the couple had been held up and robbed by gunmen as Tongo drove them around Cape Town, South Africa's premier tourist destination.

He told the court on Monday he was bisexual, apparently a response to British media speculation that he engineered his wife's murder to escape a heterosexual relationship.

In his plea explanation read in court on Monday, Dewani said Tongo had offered to organise a private helicopter flight for the couple at a cost of between 20,000 and 25,0000 rand, to which Dewani responded he would do it for 15,000 rand.

Dewani, who lost a three-year legal battle in Britain to avoid being tried in South Africa, took notes and repeatedly shook his head during Qwabe's testimony on Wednesday.

His trial is the second high-profile case this year to turn the spotlight on South Africa's judicial system and high murder rate.

A Pretoria high court convicted Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius of culpable homicide in September for shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

More than 17,000 people were murdered in South Africa between April 2013 and March 2014, an increase of about 800 over the previous year, according to police figures.

(Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Robin Pomeroy)