A South African man accused of being hired by a British newlywed to kill his Swedish bride has been sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to his involvement in the murder, officials said.
Mziwamadoda Qwabe, who was accused with another South African man, pleaded guilty to charges of kidnapping, robbery, murder and illegal possession of a firearm at a hearing in the Western Cape on Wednesday.
Court officials said Qwabe, who murdered Anni Dewani in November 2010 while she was on honeymoon with her new husband, received the 25-year prison sentence after promising to co-operate with prosecutors.
John Hlophe, the trial judge, accepted Qwabe’s plea bargain, which came as prosecutors and defence lawyers met to prepare for the scheduled start of his trial on Monday with accused accomplice Xolile Mngeni, a court official said.
Qwabe’s deal requires him to co-operate and testify against others accused in the case, including Dewani’s husband, Shrien. He is accused of hiring the two men to kill Dewani on their honeymoon, said Eric Ntabazalila, a spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority.
Lawyers and prosecutors also met on Wednesday with Mngeni, Ntabazalila said. Mngeni will appear on Monday in court, though it is unclear whether his trial will begin then, the spokesman said.
There was no immediate comment from Qwabe’s lawyer.
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.
Taxi driver’s involvement
The Dewanis were honeymooning in South Africa in November 2010 two weeks after their marriage.
Anni Dewani’s body, shot in the back of the neck, was found in an abandoned taxi in Cape Town’s impoverished Gugulethu township. Husband Dewani later told investigators that gunmen forced him and a taxi driver from the car when they were taking a tour.
Officials at first thought the crime was robbery due to rampant violent crime in South Africa, although attacks on foreign tourists are rare.
However, taxi driver Zola Tongo later testified that Shrien Dewani offered him about $2,100 to arrange the killing and make it look like a carjacking.
In a plea bargain to avoid a life sentence, Tongo pleaded guilty and was convicted of kidnapping, murder, aggravated robbery and obstructing justice. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, and is expected to give evidence at trial.
Dewani 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 British 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 her family was pleased by Qwabe pleading guilty, but “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.”