Almost a year after allegedly assaulting a Johannesburg woman, Zimbabwe's former first lady Grace Mugabe could face criminal prosecution after the High Court in Johannesburg ruled on Monday that the decision to grant her diplomatic immunity was illegal and unconstitutional. Whether she will be prosecuted is dependent on whether she will be made to return to South Africa.
A decision by former Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to grant Mugabe diplomatic immunity in 2017, was inconsistent with the Constitution, the South Gauteng High Court ruled on Monday.
Mugabe was hastily granted immunity in August last year after charges of assault were laid against her by a young South African woman, Gabriella Engels. Engels claimed Mugabe assaulted her with a electric cord after finding her in the company of her sons in a Sandton Hotel.
It later emerged that the diplomatic immunity was granted after Mugabe had already left the country with her husband, Robert.
The DA (Democratic Alliance), who challenged the decision argued that Nkoana-Mashabane’s, decision to grant Mugabe immunity was hasty, embarrassing and above all, illegal and unconstitutional.
On Monday Judge Bashier Vally agreed saying the decision to grant diplomatic immunity was inconsistent with the Constitution and must be set aside.
Read the full judgment
The Department of International Relations was also ordered to pay the cost of the application.
The DA, who challenged the decision to grant immunity in court, said: “This is a great day for justice, the rule of law and shows that nobody is above in the law. In just the same way the South African government did in the al-Bashir matter, the South African government chose to put the politics of expediency above the rule of law.”
DA Federal Executive Chair James Selfe said the judgement had also set a good precedent.
The ruling comes on the same day that Zimbabwe holds its first election in 38 years when Robert Mugabe is not heading up Zanu-PF.
Lobby group, Afriforum, who supported Engels said the judgement was a victory.
“There was a chance for Mrs Mugabe to get away because of her political position and ties. But, what this judgment means is that Mrs Mugabe is not above the law, and that Miss Engels will get closure through a full court process where justice is done,” Afriforum CEO Kallie Kriel said.
“We must remember that the Engels were offered money, and we have great respect for them for not accepting it and respecting court process,” he said.
Asked what would happen now, Kriel said they will be monitoring that the police investigate the matter and that the National Prosecuting Authority prosecute Grace Mugabe.
“If the NPA will not prosecute Mrs Mugabe because of her surname, they know we are ready to go for a private prosecution on behalf of Miss Engels. But hopefully we will get the first prize, and that is the National Prosecuting Authority does its job and prosecutes Mrs Mugabe.”
The DA called for an arrest warrant for Grace Mugabe to be reissued for the assault of Engels. DM