Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe seeks diplomatic immunity from charges of assault on model

Gabriella Engels' mother says she received 14 stitches on her head after Sunday's assault

Ed Cropley
Wednesday 16 August 2017 18:38 BST
The 52-year-old said she had first acted to save her two sons, Chatunga and Robert Junior, who were “in trouble with a drunken young woman”
The 52-year-old said she had first acted to save her two sons, Chatunga and Robert Junior, who were “in trouble with a drunken young woman” (AP)

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 on Wednesday.

Police also confirmed that Ms Mugabe, the 52-year-old wife of Zimbabwe’s nonagenarian leader Robert, had failed to appear at a court hearing on Tuesday relating to allegations she attacked Gabriella Engels with an electric extension chord.

Engels’ mother, Debbie, told Reuters that her daughter had received 14 stitches on her head from Sunday’s assault – which the mother did not witness – and demanded Ms 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 Ms 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 Ms Mugabe’s spokesperson in Harare and from Information Minister Chris Mushowe went unanswered.

Ms Mugabe, a potential successor to her 93-year-old husband, was in South Africa to receive treatment for an injured foot, according to local media reports. A Zimbabwean intelligence source told Reuters she was not travelling on a diplomatic passport.

Criminal attorney Riaan Louw said diplomatic immunity would not apply if Ms Mugabe had indeed entered on private business.

“If she wasn’t here on official business, that rules out the possibility of diplomatic immunity,” Mr 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 Tuesday’s abortive court hearing was designed to obtain a statement from Ms Mugabe, along with her version of the events, but that 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.

Reuters has been unable to identify Ms Mugabe’s lawyers in Johannesburg. Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Pretoria, said he “knew nothing”. “I have to go to my office to get briefed,” he said.

Gabriella Engels said she was attacked while waiting to meet up with Chatunga, one of Ms Mugabe’s two adult sons, in the hotel in Johannesburg.

The News24 website quoted Engels’ version of events in the hotel room. “When Grace entered, I had no idea who she was. She walked in with an extension cord and just started beating me with it,” the model said.

The incident is not the first time Ms Mugabe has been accused of assault.

In 2009, a newspaper photographer in Hong Kong said she and her bodyguard had assaulted him. Police there said the incident was reported but that no charges were brought.


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