South Africa

Africa, South Africa

Saving Grace: Zimbabwe’s first lady attempts to hide behind diplomatic immunity

Saving Grace: Zimbabwe’s first lady attempts to hide behind diplomatic immunity

The South African government is divided on whether or not to charge Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace for assaulting a model in Sandton on Sunday. Police Minister Fikile Mbalula wants to charge her but International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane fears this will seriously damage South Africa’s relations with Zimbabwe – and the continent, official sources say. By PETER FABRICIUS.

Zimbabwe has demanded diplomatic immunity for Zimbabwean first lady, Grace Mugabe and President Mugabe flew into South Africa on Wednesday to intervene. He was due to come here anyway for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit this week but seems to have come early to deal with his wife’s problem.

Legal advisers in the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) are telling the government that Ms Mugabe does not quality for diplomatic immunity because she was in South Africa on a private visit when she allegedly beat 20-year-old Gabriella Engels with an electrical extension cord while the model was visiting the Mugabe’s sons Robert and Chatunga.

Officials said that the Zimbabwean government was now trying to insert Grace Mugabe retrospectively into the country’s official delegation to the SADC summit to justify seeking diplomatic immunity.

The Dirco lawyers have advised that this would still not quality her for diplomatic immunity under international treaties because she was not acting in her official capacity when she perpetrated the alleged crime.

“But we are looking at what we can do to allow her to return to Zimbabwe without being charged,” a South African official said.” We don’t want to jeopardise relations with Zimbabwe. Also a First Lady has never been arrested in Africa and the rest of the continent is watching us and we have to be aware of what it could do to our relations with the continent.”

Earlier this week Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela told the Sowetan that Grace Mugabe did not quality for immunity. “She needs to be here on official business. It won’t apply if she is here on holiday or for something else,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“Secondly, as a First Lady, she is not part of government or a government official. It doesn’t apply just because she’s the wife of a president.”

But today Monyela would not comment, saying that the police were handling the matter.

After earlier reports that Grace Mugabe had returned home after the alleged assault, South Africa’s police ministry issued a statement on Wednesday saying she was still in South Africa. It explained that Mugabe had originally agreed to present herself at the Sandton police station at 10am on Tuesday “to obtain a warning statement, obtain the suspect’s version if any and present the docket to NPA for a decision whether to prosecute or not”.

But she had not arrived at the police station and her lawyer and Zimbabwean government representatives had later explained that this was because she had changed her mind and decided to seek diplomatic immunity. The Zimbabwean government had later sent a formal diplomatic note to Dirco “invoking said diplomatic immunity cover”.

“We are advised (that) her itinerary includes amongst private matters her attendance and participation at the scheduled SADC heads of state/government summit and bilateral diplomatic meetings already taking place in Pretoria,” the police ministry said.

It added that police were holding discussions with Ms Mugabe’s lawyers and the Zimbabwean High Commission in Pretoria “to make sure that the suspect is processed through the legal system”.

Official sources said Mbalula was still keen to pursue charges.

Nkoana-Mashabane, Mbalula and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula have had at least one meeting with Zimbabwean foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi in Pretoria to discuss the case. DM

Photo: Grace Mugabe (R) speaks to her husband President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe (L) at a welcome home event at Harare International airport, Harare, Zimbabwe, 24 September 2016. Photo: AARON UFUMELI (EPA)


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