23. THE SURFSIDE CCTV – A NEW TAKE

Key evidence: Mbolombo on CCTV at 9:31 pm on Saturday night.

Key evidence: Mbolombo on CCTV at 9:31 pm on Saturday night.

Panorama went to great lengths and used every opportunity it could to discredit Tongo, the fare-touting driver of an unlicenced taxi, whom murder suspect Shrien Dewani hired on his arrival at the airport; whom Dewani had previously described as “helpful” and “trustworthy”, hugged, and referred to as “a nice guy”.

Tongo made a full confession to police of his involvement in Anni’s murder, receiving an eighteen year long jail term after a seven year reduction for co-operation in a plea bargain. He told the court that Shrien Dewani instructed him to help organise Anni’s murder and key aspects of his testimony are supported by CCTV footage, phone records and money transaction records.

Vine claims that Tongo is not telling the truth about events at the Surfside Restaurant. He says that “if the timer on the CCTV is correct”, Tongo called Mbolombo “8 seconds after disappearing from view”, and goes on to say:

“So in just eight seconds, Shrien Dewani is supposed to have threatened Tongo, and demanded Anni’s murder that night”

But only a moment before this in the program at 33min 4sec, Panorama shows CCTV of Mbolombo receiving a call, time-stamped 21:31. Mbolombo says

The person that wants this is in a rush. Maybe by the time you get there they’ll be there“.

That call is important.

It is hard evidence which proves that Vine’s attack on Tongo’s credibility is unfounded. Read on to find out why:

The video sequence starting at 32min 37sec:

  • Vine: The hijack was supposed to take place in Gugulethu township shortly after Tongo picked the couple up. But Tongo says when he drove by the gunmen weren’t there. Hijacker Qwabe claims they’d agreed to call it off. Yet records in the police docket show calls between the taxi driver, the hijacker, and the middleman at the Colosseum Hotel continued.
  • Mbolombo: The person that wants this is in a rush. Maybe by the time you get there they’ll be there.
  • Vine: Moments later as they arrived at a restaurant in the beach resort of Strand, the taxi driver Tongo claims Shrien Dewani became furious that Anni’s murder had not yet happened.
  • Tongo: I walked with them to the restaurant. At the entrance the lady went in and Dewani turned around and spoke to me. He appeared stressed and theatened me. He said that if the job was not done that evening he was going to kill me.
  • Vine: Yet this CCTV covers the restaurant entrance. It shows the three of them walking towards the restaurant together, but it’s not Anni who heads in first as Tongo claims. It’s Shrien. A waiter has confirmed this to Panorama. And there is no row.”

Which entrance is Tongo talking about? There are 2 entrances – the internal entrance to the restaurant itself, and the external entrance to the building. Vine chooses to suggest that Tongo is referring to the internal entrance, but there are compelling reasons to accept that Tongo was talking about the external entrance to the building.

external entrance to the surfside

external entrance to the surfside

Surfside CCTV walkway, from the other end.

Surfside CCTV walkway, from the other end.

Vine goes on to claim:

  • Vine: “If the timer on the CCTV is correct, phone records in the police file show that 8 seonds after disappearing from view Tongo calls the middleman. So in just eight seconds, Shrien Dewani is supposed to have threatened Tongo, and demanded Anni’s murder that night” (34min 26 sec)

So, Vine is suggesting the following interpretation of Tongo’s testimony:

  1. At 9:31 pm, Mbolombo informs someone that “The person that wants this is in a rush. Maybe by the time you get there they’ll be there” as shown on CCTV at the Colosseum.
  2. “Moments later” (actually 2 minutes later), Tongo drives into the carpark at the Strand Pavilion and walks with Shrien and Anni to the restaurant, as shown on CCTV footage time-stamped 21:33.
  3. In the next 8 seconds, after they disappear from the view of the CCTV, Anni runs into the restaurant by herself, and Shrien threatens Tongo, and says he wants the job done that night, and Tongo whips out his mobile phone and calls Mbolombo.
  4. At 9:34 pm, Tongo calls Mbolombo, and Mbolombo first learns that “The person that wants this is in a rush…

Vine’s interpretation is absurd. How can Mbolombo be telling someone, at 9:31 pm, that “the person that wants this is in a rush”, 3 minutes before he even gets that information from Tongo (at 9:34 pm, according to Vine)?

The surfside in Google Earth. It is quite a long walk from the carpark through the building to the restaurant

The surfside in Google Earth. It is quite a long walk from the carpark through the building to the restaurant

Vine also contradicts his own account from 2012, where he quotes Shrien Dewani’s statement from The Sun interview tape: “We had a short walk, because it was a nice warm evening and there was.. you know.. a large number of people flying kites on the.. on the beach.” How could they arrive in the car at the Surfside moments after Mbolombo’s call, and then have a short walk on the beach, and then appear two minutes later on the internal CCTV at the Surfside? That would have been a record-breaking sprint to the beach and back, Jeremy.

There is a far more reasonable interpretation of the evidence:

Tongo must have told Mbolombo before 21:30, which means the confrontation with Shrien also took place before 21:30, and before they had entered the Strand Pavilion. The “entrance” which Tongo talks about, can only be the external entrance to the building. What Tongo is in fact alleging, is that at the entrance to the building “the lady went in and Dewani turned around and spoke to me. He appeared stressed and theatened me.”

  1. Who is Mbolombo talking at 9:30pm (21:30hrs), as shown in the CCTV at 33:04 in your broadcast? It is not Tongo. The translation we see on the screen is only what can be heard on the CCTV at the Protea Colosseum – it is only Mbolombo’s words, not the person he is talking to. Mbolombo would not be explaining to Tongo that the person who wants this is in a rush. Tongo would have been telling Mbolombo that. There is only one other person Mbolombo could be talking to – Qwabe.
  2. In this conversation with Qwabe, how did Mbolombo know that “The person who wants this is in a rush“? He could only know that if Tongo had already contacted him with that information. So there is clear evidence that Tongo contacted Mbolombo before 21:31 hrs (9:31pm), and told him that the job had to be done that night.
  3. That in turn means, if we accept Tongo’s testimony, Shrien Dewani must have confronted Tongo before he contacted Mbolombo, before 9:31 pm, and before the CCTV footage of them inside the Strand Pavilion.
  4. According to Qwabe (see his plea bargain 20.8) Tongo called them at 20:15 after leaving from the Cape Grace, but when the two gunmen arrived at the rendezvous about half an hour later, Tongo had already driven by. The journey to Strand would take another half hour, so on that reckoning Tongo would have been driving into the carpark at the Strand about 9:15 pm.
  5. That would leave just enough time for a walk along the beachfront, as confirmed in Shrien’s account, before all three appear on the internal CCTV at 21:33. The beach walk would also have provided ample scope for Shrien to seize an opportune moment, and deliver his ultimatum to Tongo.

Assessment:

We can indeed accept that Tongo called Mbolombo “8 seconds after disappearing from view”, but Vine’s assertions about what preceded that call are a fiction. Vine here is deceitfully trying to fit the evidence to his own preferred version of events. Vine cannot be unaware of Shrien’s claim to have walked along the beach, as he himself reported on it in his 2012 program. He ignores that evidence, as he also ignores the obvious logical impossibility of Mbolombo passing on information from Tongo, before Tongo has even told him about it. Vine’s attack on Tongo is founded on nothing more than psychological trickery. He reinforces his false, and actually counterfactual arguments with persuasive visual images.

Vine’s narration is accompanied by suggestive visuals which present a misleading, yet plausible impression to the audience. After the footage of Mbolombo on the telephone at 21:30, Vine says “moments later” they arrived at Surfside, and shows video from inside a moving vehicle approaching the Strand Pavilion. As we the audience are concentrating on Vine’s verbal argument, we tend to accept uncritically the accompanying visual impressions. We tend to unconsciously accept the picture presented – that Shrien and Anni pulled up in the taxi outside the Strand Pavilion barely moments before we see them on CCTV inside. But the hard evidence of the CCTV corroborates Tongo’s story, and shows that Vine’s interpretation cannot possibly be correct.

Professor Fraser’s comment at 34:47 is seemingly quite apt, although probably not in the way he intended: “What we know from the CCTV is that this couldn’t have happened…”

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