South Africa grants Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity

Marsha Scott
August 20, 2017

Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe failed to appear Saturday at a summit in South Africa attended by her husband, an event overshadowed by her effort to obtain diplomatic immunity over assault allegations.

Neither South Africa's foreign ministry or the police said where the Zimbabwean first lady was, after it emerged that two aircraft were barred from leaving Johannesburg and Harare.

A security source, however, said immunity had been granted.

Mugabe has not commented on the allegations.

Grace Mugabe has been accused of assaulting 20-year-old Gabriella Engels with an extension cord at a luxury hotel in Sandton‚ Johannesburg‚ on Sunday night‚ where Mugabe's two sons were thought to be staying.

The country has a hard relationship with its northern neighbour.

But although he is also widely reviled in the West, Mugabe is still seen by many Africans as the continent's elder statesman and a hero of its anti-colonial struggles.

The matter has escalated to a diplomatic incident between Zimbabwe and its main trading partner, South Africa, adding to already frayed economic relations over import restrictions imposed by Harare past year.

Indeed, the 93-year old president himself arrived two days early in Pretoria for a regional southern African summit this week to help resolve his wife's legal problems.

The aviation authority says an aircraft must have a "foreign operator's permit" and other documents in order to fly in and out of South Africa.

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"Those countries that have traditionally been supportive of Zimbabwe would lambast South Africa for arresting Mrs Mugabe and prosecuting her", Kajee told Al Jazeera.

"Subsequently, the Government of Zimbabwe has dispatched a diplomatic note verbale to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) invoking the said diplomatic immunity cover".

However, Lees said sources at the airline said this was not a reason to ground flights as countries in the SADC region had agreements all the time.

Where is Grace Mugabe now?

Nel told reporters that there was the "possibility of political interference" in the case. "They will run with it".

The high profile lawyer quit the state's prosecutor's office in January and began working for a civic group that hopes to bring private prosecutions in criminal cases where the state opts not to.

"The government has two responsibilities: one, to protect its own citizens and two, to act according to the law". He said diplomatic immunity can't be sued to "escape prosecution from grave crimes".

"They also imposed similar decisions on us yesterday and an Air Zimbabwe plane was grounded", Joram Gumbo, Zimbabwe's transport minister, said by phone on Saturday.

"In the same vein, the Minister emphasised that civil aviation safety and security is critical, and all licence and permit holders operating into and within the South African airspace need to comply with the applicable worldwide standards, and the South African civil aviation regulations".

Protesters waving placards and chanting calls for the Zimbabwean First Lady to be arrested were stopped by police outside in Pretoria, where the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government is being held.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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