Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe was due to appear in court on Tuesday facing assault charges. She would have followed the appearance of South Africa’s deputy minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana, in the same court, for similar charges. Instead, Mugabe vanished, making a farce of South Africa’s law enforcement. By BHEKI C. SIMELANE.
In a flash, the entrance to the Randburg Magistrates Court had an array of lenses waiting to have a glimpse of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe. She was to appear before the court in connection with her alleged assault of a 20-year-old woman who she found in the company of her sons at a Johannesburg Sandton Hotel.
Mugabe would have been the second high-profile figure to appear in the Randburg Magistrates Court in a matter of days. South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana is the other high-profile figure that graced the Randburg Magistrates Court, also facing charges of assault. Manana’s appearance followed a complaint of assault laid against the minister by two women he was alleged to have assaulted in a Johannesburg nightclub.
Mugabe is alleged to have assaulted the young woman using an electric cord. Images circulating on social media showed victim Gabriella Engels with a freshly scarred forehead.
Photo: Gabriella Engels (Twitter)
The Zimbabwean First Lady’s sons have been staying in the country for a while, with local and Zimbabwean media reporting on the sons’ wayward behaviour.
Mugabe’s court rap came hot on the heels of sermons on the protection of vulnerable women by Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, who came out guns blazing in his condemnation of violence against women. Mbalula’s intervention followed a national outcry over Manana’s actions for which South Africans had demanded justice.
The Department of International Relations’ Clayson Monyela neither denied nor confirmed whether Mugabe was still in the country. “Please speak to SAPS,” was Monyela’s response.
Addressing media at the entrance to the Randburg Magistrates Court, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Communist Party Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena said if the incident had happened in Zimbabwe things would have turned out differently. Mabhena praised the South African Government and the ruling African National Congress, saying: “They still uphold the ideals of the liberation struggle.”
Still full of praise for the SA Government and the ANC, and unsurprisingly unaware that Mugabe would not turn up, Mabhena added, “The appearing of Grace Mugabe in court proves indeed that the ANC has not diverted from the ideals of the struggle.
“When we fought during the struggle for liberation one of the things we were fighting for was freedom for all. This means none of us is above the law,” he said.
All the while, over a dozen journalists, including Zimbabwean media, waited for Mugabe’s court appearance for several hours. Speculation was rife that based on Mugabe’s social standing, the SA Government would pull all the stops to ensure that Mugabe eludes journalists.
Asked whether or not he was shocked by the non-appearance, Mabhena said he wasn’t shocked. He also described Mugabe’s sons as wild.
Mabhena said Mugabe should return to Harare with her children if she was still in the country. He asked, “What are they doing here? Grace’s children are wild. We are here to say whenever she goes back to Zimbabwe, she has to take her children back to Harare and instill discipline in these kids,” said Mabhena.
As minutes turned to hours, and hours seemed like eternity for the assembled journalists, one security guard at the court entrance leaned closer and whispered: “The Chief Prosecutor has left, and so has the Senior Prosecutor. Why are you people still here? She is no longer coming.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the South African Police Service (SAPS) confirmed that after 16:00 a case of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm was opened by a 20-year-old woman. The police statement said that the suspect in the case could not be named because she had not yet appeared in court.
Colleagues over at the Sandton court had also reported their concern over Mugabe’s big non-appearance. There was speculation at some point during the long wait that Mugabe could go to Sandton instead. Mugabe’s sudden disappearance or whereabouts could not be established by late on Tuesday, and neither the NPA nor SAPS availed themselves for questions.
Reuters later reported that she had already returned to Zimbabwe.
“Yes, she is back in the country. We don’t know where this issue of assault charges is coming from,” a senior government official told Reuters. The official declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the press. A second official confirmed that Grace Mugabe had returned, saying “she is around now” and accusing the media of a plot to tarnish the first family’s name.
Despite this, several reports indicated that the Zimbabwean first lady was still in South Africa. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was expected to arrive here on Wednesday afternoon for a SADC meeting. DM
Photo: Grace Mugabe (EPA)