South African police have put a “red alert” on the country’s borders to prevent any attempted flight by Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe, who is accused of assaulting a model in a Johannesburg hotel with an electric cable.
Her 93-year-old husband, President Robert Mugabe, is also in South Africa for a regional summit, complicating the diplomatic dilemma confronting Pretoria, which already has a difficult relationship with its troubled northern neighbour.
South Africa is home to an estimated three million Zimbabweans who accuse Mugabe of trashing a promising African democracy but Pretoria has been powerless to prevent Zimbabwe’s economic and political decline over the last two decades.
Grace Mugabe, 52, has asked for diplomatic immunity in the case but has not been charged. Her whereabouts were not known although police minister Fikile Mbalula said she remained in the country.
The alleged victim, 20-year-old Gabriella Engels, has accused Mugabe of barging into a hotel room on Sunday where Engels was waiting to meet one of Mugabe’s sons, and whipping her with an electric extension cable.
Mugabe had been due to appear in court on Tuesday afternoon under a deal struck with authorities but failed to turn up, police said.
The South African government has made no official comment on the case and foreign ministry spokesmen have not answered their phones for two days but the issue is causing waves at the highest level. Justice Minister Michael Masutha said he attended a meeting yesterday to discuss the matter but declined to give details.
Police have said Grace will get no special treatment, and Engels’ mother, Debbie, is cranking up the public pressure, including releasing graphic pictures of her daughter’s head injuries that required 14 stitches.
Overnight, it emerged that she had also enlisted the legal help of Gerrie Nel, the former State prosecutor who secured a murder conviction against track star Oscar Pistorius.
At a news conference, Nel said the Engels family had been offered cash to drop the case but had turned it down.
“It’s not about money. It’s about justice,” he said. Reuters