ALTHOUGH the Zimbabwe government has invoked diplomatic immunity cover in a bid to rescue First Lady Grace Mugabe from the trouble she has landed in after assaulting a South African model, Gabriella Engels, in Johannesburg last Sunday, President Robert Mugabe’s wife is still in hot water.
By Elias Mambo
This comes after AfriForum warned that diplomatic immunity should not and cannot be granted because Grace has committed a serious crime that needs to be dealt with through the legal route.
AfriForum is a South African civil-rights initiative to mobilise civil society and specifically minority communities, in order to take part in democratic debate.
Earlier yesterday, Isiah Mureriwa, an advocate of the High Court of South Africa and an associate of the association of arbitrators, told the Zimbabwe Independent that human rights organisations were ready to assist Engels with private prosecution. “It is unlikely that the South African government would allow her (Grace) prosecution on account of the likely diplomatic immunity,” he said.
“The best recourse is to do private prosecution where the state has no role to play and all consideration relevant to diplomatic immunity plays no role.
“If privately prosecuted, the state cannot even take over the prosecution since it will be barred by the immunity.”
AfriForum held a press conference announcing that prominent advocate Gerrie Nel is ready to represent Engels via private prosecution if the state fails to prosecute Grace.
At the press conference, Nel said his organisation is giving the South African government three months before it intervenes.
“We will give the prosecutions three months before we intervene. We will do all we can for justice,” said Nel.
In January this year AfriForum established a private prosecution unit led by Nel. Nel is famous for successfully prosecuting former police commissioner Jackie Selebi and Oscar Pistorius.
Nel also said the Engels family was offered money by the Mugabe family to drop the case but refused. “The family is not interested in a settlement, they will press for justice in law,” he said, adding: “The Engels family was approached by a third party to accept money for the case to go away.”
AfriForum says the family was told to come up with their own settlement amount, but rejected the offer. “If she’s escaped jurisdiction, we’ll do what we can in terms of the law. We are focussing on her being in the country,” he said. “We are monitoring this situation and if we feel that it is not going accordingly, we will intervene.”
AfriForum has also already written to the International Relations department advising them that Grace cannot be granted diplomatic immunity because of the seriousness of the case. The Department of International Relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela this week said Grace could not claim immunity. “She needs to be here on official business. It won’t apply if she’s here on holiday or for something else‚“ he said. “Secondly‚ as a first lady‚ she’s not part of government or a government official. It doesn’t apply just because she’s the wife of a president‚” Monyela said.
On Wednesday the ministry of police in South Africa issued an update on the assault saga, saying Grace had invoked the diplomatic immunity. “The suspect’s lawyers and her government representatives made verbal representations to South African Police Service (SAPS) investigators that the suspect wished to invoke diplomatic immunity cover,” the police statement stated.
“Subsequently the government of Zimbabwe has dispatched a diplomatic note verbale to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation invoking said diplomatic immunity cover.”