Grace Mugabe, controversial wife of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, is most likely to be given diplomatic immunity after she leaves South Africa on Sunday to avoid assault charges in this country. By PETER FABRICIUS.
Diplomatic sources said the delay in granting her immunity until then would forestall either police or private charges being laid against her. Mugabe allegedly beat 20-year-old Gabriella Engels with an electrical extension cord while the model was visiting her sons Robert and Chatunga in Sandton last Sunday.
Officials said Police Minister Fikile Mbalula wanted to charge her but International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane feared this would seriously damage South Africa’s relations with Zimbabwe- and the continent.
They added that it was a “no-brainer” that Nkoana-Mashabane’s view would prevail and that Mugabe would be allowed to return to Zimbabwe on Sunday with her husband after he had attended the summit in Pretoria of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
However, the official decision to grant her diplomatic immunity would only be made after she had safely left the country. That would forestall any legal challenges being launched against the immunity. Officials noted that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could not lay charges until the decision whether or not to grant her diplomatic immunity had been taken.
Afriforum’s Gerrie Nel has threatened to lay private charges against her if the NPA does not. But the official pointed out that private charges could only be brought once the NPA had decided not to lay charges itself. By then it would be too late.
Wits University Vice Chancellor Adam Habib told Radio 702 on Thursday that if Mugabe was not charged, Pretoria should at least bar her from entering South Africa “for the foreseeable future”.
But the official said even this was unlikely and that Mugabe would get off scot-free. They added that Mbalula – who often shoots from the hip – had put himself into a difficult position by going public on Tuesday and announcing that Grace Mugabe had agreed to present herself to the Sandton police station that day to make a statement and face possible charges.
She failed to appear and the next day the police ministry announced this was because she and the Zimbabwean government had decided to invoke diplomatic immunity. They did so on the basis that she was part of the official Zimbabwean delegation to the SADC summit, even though it was clear she had been in South Africa on private business when the incident occurred, apparently for medical treatment.
Legal advisers to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation have given the government an opinion that she would not qualify for diplomatic immunity even as a member of the official delegation because she had not been on government business when the alleged crime was committed.
But political and diplomatic considerations would override this legal opinion, the official said.
Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela declined to comment, referring the request to the police ministry. Police ministry spokesperson Vish Naidoo would not comment on this either, saying that diplomatic immunity was a decision that had to be made by Dirco. He confirmed that the case against Grace Mugabe was being held in abeyance until Dirco had decided whether or not to grant immunity.DM
Photo: Zimbabwean First Lady, Grace Mugabe during a pre-2018 election rally event at the Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera, about 100 kilometers east of Harare, Zimbabwe, 02 June 2017. Photo: EPA/AARON UFUMELI