Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe has sought diplomatic immunity in South Africa, where she is under investigation over the assault of a 20-year-old model in an upmarket hotel, South African police said overnight.
Police also confirmed that Mugabe, the 52-year-old wife of Zimbabwe’s nonagenarian leader Robert, had failed to appear at a court hearing yesterday relating to allegations she attacked Gabriella Engels with an electric extension chord.
Engels’ mother Debbie said that her daughter had received 14 stitches on her head from Sunday’s assault which the mother did not witness and demanded Mugabe face justice.
“I just want justice for my daughter. It’s not about money. It’s about justice. She attacked my child for no reason,” she said.
The police statement said Harare had sought diplomatic immunity for Mugabe which if granted would exempt her from prosecution but said she would be “processed through the legal system”.
Reuters has not been able to verify key aspects of the assault allegations independently, and multiple requests for comment from Mugabe’s spokesman in Harare and from Information Minister Chris Mushowe went unanswered.
Mugabe, a potential successor to her 93-year-old husband, was in South Africa to receive treatment to an injured foot, according to local media. A Zimbabwean intelligence source said she was not travelling on a diplomatic passport.
Criminal lawyer Riaan Louw said diplomatic immunity would not apply if Mugabe had indeed entered on private business.
“If she wasn’t here on official business, that rules out the possibility of diplomatic immunity,” Louw said.
However, given the potential for diplomatic fallout, South African prosecutors could yet decide not to prosecute if they thought the injuries were not too severe, he added.
“They can fail to prosecute her,” he said. “They’ve got the powers to decide that it’s not in the interests of the community or it might create animosity between us and Zimbabwe.”
Police said yesterday’s abortive court hearing was designed to obtain a statement from Mugabe, along with her version of the events, but she failed to appear as arranged.
Police spokesman Vish Naidoo did not comment on the specifics of the case, other than to say it related to assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.