The groups gun for Grace Mugabe in SA court

By: 
ZELDA VENTER
Source: 
IOL

THREE NGOs have joined the legal battle by model Gabrielle Engels, assisted by AfriForum and the DA, for the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to review and set aside Grace Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity.

Freedom Under Law, Women’s Legal Centre Trust and the Commission for Gender Equality were admitted as friends of the court to intervene in the application, in the case in which the former Zimbabwe first lady was granted immunity following assault charges brought against her by Engels.

They have until February21 to file their heads of argument.

The application followed an incident on August13, when Engels was allegedly assaulted by Mugabe at a hotel in Sandton. 

The 20-year-old model claims Mugabe burst into the hotel room she was in, and hit her on the forehead with an electric cord with a plug at the end.

Engels suffered gashes to her forehead and the back of her head. 

She laid criminal charges against Mugabe, but the then first lady never appeared in court as she had received diplomatic immunity from Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

The minister, in papers filed, said she afforded Mugabe spousal immunity at the time. 

According to Nkoana-Mashabane, she gave Mugabe immunity as the SADC Summit was in progress, and said any enforcement action would have caused chaos. 

She said if Mugabe was arrested for the alleged assault, it could have even caused the collapse of the summit and impacted very negatively on the reputation and international standing of South Africa.

“A failed summit would not be in the interests of the country,” the minister said. 

She said Mugabe had, at the time, travelled to South Africa as part of the official delegation of then president Robert Mugabe, to the summit.

She said she had fully considered the question of immunity, and decided to confer immunity on Mugabe in terms of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act.

The minister stated that it was not in issue that Mugabe was not a special envoy or representative in terms of the act, and that she was not a diplomatic agent. 

But given the fact that she was the wife of then president Mugabe, she enjoyed spousal immunity. 

She said she fully considered Engels’s interests at the time, but concluded that she had no option but to recognise Mugabe’s immunity. 

James Selfe of the DA, in his papers filed to have the minister’s decision overturned, said Mugabe was not in South Africa on official business and she was apparently here for medical reasons and was not accompanied by her husband.

“There is nothing in either South African or international law that renders her deserving of diplomatic immunity,” he said.

He added that the decision to grant her immunity was taken hastily, unreasonably and without consulting Engels, the alleged victim. 

“Grace Mugabe’s attack on Ms Engels was vicious and unjustified. It was the act of a person who has come to believe that she is above the law,” Selfe stated.

Meanwhile, Nicole Fritz of Freedom Under Law said, in court papers, that nothing under international law required South Africa to grant Mugabe immunity from criminal investigation and prosecution. 

She said the minister’s decision was flawed and should be declared unconstitutional on grounds of irrationality and unlawfulness. 

No date has yet been set for the review application.

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