South Africa: What Next as Grace Mugabe Returns to Zimbabwe Unprosecuted?

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While legal juggernauts representing Gabriella Engels, the alleged victim of an assault by Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe, were finalizing their strategies in the legal battle against Mrs. Mugabe, the First Lady is reported to have returned to Zimbabwe. Her return to Zimbabwe is very controversial, having in mind that the South African police had issued a “red alert“ at the country`s borders for the Wife of President Robert Mugabe.

The 52 ““ year-old First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe is wanted in South Africa over an “attack“ on Ms. Engels. Mrs. Mugabe failed to appear in the court on Tuesday to answer questions regarding her alleged assault on a 20-year-old model, Gabriella Engels, who claimed that Mrs. Mugabe had hit her with an extension cord in a hotel room near Johannesburg.

Zimbabwe had asked for diplomatic immunity on Mrs. Mugabe, however, both the legal team of the victim and many Southern African legal experts who had recently shown concern over alleged South African government`s little respect for the rule of law, are strongly against the immunity. Regardless, South African foreign minister Maita Nkoana-Mashabane announced that she had indeed conferred diplomatic immunity on Mugabe, which shields her from prosecution in South Africa. With such a privilege, the accused Grace Mugabe could return to Zimbabwe with her husband who was in South Africa to attend the summit of the leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Interestingly, Nkoana-Mashabane made her announcement after Mrs. Grace Mugabe had left the South Africa. The move effectively thwarted any possibility of a court application to stop the First Lady of Zimbabwe from leaving South Africa, while it deliberates on the validity or jurisdiction of the immunity.

Being granted immunity from prosecution in South Africa, may not be the end of the Grace Mugabe`s legal turbulence in South Africa. Explaining the reason behind her decision to grant immunity on Grace Mugabe,   the foreign minister claimed that her decision was based both on her desire to uphold the law and Ms. Engels’ rights. She added as well as, that her decision equally aimed at maintaining good intergovernmental relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe. However, some have criticised the decision to grant immunity on Grace Mugabe, citing equality before the law ““ especially, in view of the alleged attack on Ms. Engels. While Nkoana-Mashabane insisted that Grace Mugabe enjoyed “derivative immunity“ as a spouse of the head of state, other legal experts disagree with the foreign minister.

The civil society, group representing Engels had reaffirmed its willingness to challenge Nkoana-Mashabane`s decision. If they eventually win the case, it might be the beginning of Grace Mugabe`s legal cum diplomatic nightmare. Such a win will effectively empower the court to prosecute the First Lady of Zimbabwe anytime she sets her foot in South Africa.

The question is: Even though Grace Mugabe of Zimbabwe has secretly returned to Zimbabwe and has been granted immunity from prosecution in South Africa, is her return to Zimbabwe the end or beginning of her legal and diplomatic woes in South Africa? Time will tell.