Gerrie Nel, who prosecuted Oscar Pistorius and now works for Afriforum, has joined forces with Grace Mugabe’s alleged victim of assault, Gabriella Engels. With pressure increasing, Zimbabwe’s first lady might actually have to face her day in court. By GREG NICOLSON.
Afriforum on Thursday announced it is supporting Gabriella Engels in her criminal case against Grace Mugabe after she was allegedly assaulted in a Sandton apartment this week. The Afrikaner rights interest group said it would pressure the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and police to apply justice fairly and ensure Zimbabwe’s first lady is not granted diplomatic immunity.
“Why we are here today is to see that justice prevails in our country,” said Kallie Kriel, Afriforum CEO. He said 20-year-old Engels, a model, is a role model in South Africa for taking on the powerful Mugabe. Engels laid charges against Mugabe after she walked in on the young woman with two of her sons in a Sandton residence and used the plug of an extension cord to assault her.
Nel, who joined Afrifoum as the head of its private prosecutions unit after leaving his job as a public prosecutor, said Engels had been approached by a third party to drop her charges against Mugabe but she had refused. Afriforum plans to pressure the NPA and SAPS to handle the matter according to the law and it has already written to Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to argue against Mugabe receiving diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution. If the NPA fails to prosecute the wife of Zimbabwe’s ailing President Robert Mugabe, Nel said Afriforum would lead a private prosecution.
Nel said Engels had not received sufficient updates from the police, but that arresting Mugabe, like other suspects, sometimes takes time. “I’m satisfied with the fact that the suspect is still in South Africa. I’m satisfied with the fact that the investigating officer told Gabriella there will be an arrest warrant,” said Nel.
“We can just prosecute if the National Prosecuting Authority decides not to prosecute. Hopefully the pressure of that alone will get the NPA to act,” he said. “According to the legislation in the country we have to give the official powers in the country the chance to do their job and we have to give the official powers the chance to prosecute,” said Kriel.
Despite rumours that she had fled to Zimbabwe, Mugabe is still suspected to be in South Africa and Police Minister Fikile Mbalula on Thursday said border authorities are on alert in case she tries to flee and avoid the charges. Afriforum’s legal adviser Willie Spies said political interference is a concern, but diplomatic immunity cannot be used for a suspect to avoid prosecution for grave crimes carrying a sentence of imprisonment for five years or more. “This is a grave crime within that definition.”
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has since arrived early in South Africa for an SADC conference this week. Grace Mugabe might try to argue that she was in the country for the conference and therefore should receive diplomatic immunity. She has often been criticised for erratic behaviour, accused of assaults in Singapore and England, and has emerged as a key player in the race to succeed her husband.
Gabriella Engels attended the press conference but the Afriforum officials said she would only speak during Mugabe’s trial. Her mother, Debbie, said the support from Nel and Afriforum was encouraging.
“At least now I can sleep a little bit more peaceful knowing that I have people in my corner that are going to help me fight for justice for my daughter,” said Debbie Engels. “They’re going to fight for her all the way. I’m very, very grateful. Now I know that this woman is not going to get off scot-free.”
With the NPA, Nel successfully prosecuted former police commissioner Jackie Selebi and later earned international fame when he prosecuted Oscar Pistorius. He was criticised for joining Afriforum’s new prosecutions unit, which has so far made little impact, but could add significant pressure on prosecuting Mugabe. DM
Photo: Then South African State prosecutor Gerrie Nel prior to the appeal by the state against Pistorius man slighter charges at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 03 November 2015. Photo: EPA/SIPHIWE SIBEKO / POOL