Zola Tongo, the taxi driver mastermind of the 2010 murder of Swedish honeymoon bride Anni Dewani, had his parole withdrawn a day before he was due to walk free.
After serving half of his 18-year sentence, Tongo was due to go home on July 28 from Malmesbury prison, 60km outside Cape Town, where officials say he has been a model prisoner.
But on July 27, correctional services officials told him his parole had been withdrawn and was being reviewed.
“He was devastated,” said a source close to Tongo after meeting him this week. “He still is devastated. His bags were packed, he had said his goodbyes to his friends and he and his family were looking forward to reuniting outside prison the next day. But it was not to be.”
It was also hard accepting that correctional services officials had signed his parole withdrawal on July 10 but only told him on July 27.
“He couldn’t understand why they could not have broken the bad news earlier,” said the source.
Tongo had been looking forward to his release since May 27 when the parole board decided he had ticked all the rehabilitation boxes.
When news of this reached Anni’s family, the Hindochas, they protested to the media that justice would be served only if Tongo be made to serve his full 18-year sentence for organising the alleged contract hit on Anni.
The Swedish bride’s body was found with a bullet wound to the neck in Tongo’s abandoned car in Khayelitsha on the morning of November 14 2010. Tongo confessed that Dewani gave him R15,000 to find hitmen to kill Anni.
Tongo, who was sentenced shortly after the murder, said he hired Xolile Mngeni and Mziwamadoda Qwabe to carry out the hit. Both men received lengthy jail sentences, but Mngeni has since died.
Dewani was extradited and stood trial for murder in the high court in Cape Town in 2014, but he was discharged because of a lack of evidence.
Tongo’s parole withdrawal was confirmed by correctional services regional commissioner Delekile Klass.
“The matter is with the National Council on Correctional Services. We are therefore unable to comment on it until we receive the outcome,” said Klass.
A member of Tongo’s rehabilitation team said it was likely that protests by the Hindocha family prompted the withdrawal of parole.
“I’m not sure what communication correctional services received from Anni’s family. All we know at this stage is that they are not happy with Zola’s early release,” said the source.
“What normally happens is when a victim’s family indicate this to correctional services then the department has the right to appeal to the parole review board.
“Although Tongo was devastated he realised that he could do nothing about it. At first he asked why, why, why. Then he realised that parole is a privilege and not a right and that he still has eight years of his sentence to serve.
“He also realised that if he was released that he could be on parole for the remainder of his sentence and that in effect he would be under house arrest for up to eight years under strict supervision of his parole officer.
“This is also not new to Zola. In May 2019, after he saw the parole board, they withheld his release on review for a year. That was based on a report that his rehabilitation was not complete. This was why he saw the parole board again in May 2020 and got his release date of July 28.”
When that news broke, Anni’s father Vinod Hindocha said: “This man should be behind bars, he is dangerous to society. He doesn’t deserve to be outside.
“If you are a murderer and you know you have done something wrong, naturally you will try to be nice in prison to escape the long sentence. And that is what he did.
“He is a very smart guy. He is fooling the system, he is fooling everybody. We thought that he would at least regret what he did but I could see no regret on his face. He never said, ‘I’m sorry for what I did.’
“We had an opportunity to address him directly and I showed him my daughter’s picture on my mobile phone and asked him: ‘Did you know who this girl was?’ He said: ‘No.’ I said: ‘This is my daughter Anni.’
“Then he put up an act and started crying. He is a good actor anyway, he has managed to fool the parole board. This is a disgrace to the country, a disgrace to the justice system. I have no words.”