FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe has left the South African government deeply divided after allegedly assaulting Johannesburg model Gabriella Engels on August 13 and seeking the convenient cover of diplomatic immunity, which saved her the embarrassment of appearing in court.
The Zimbabwe Independent is reliably informed the incident, which threatened to strain bilateral relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa, has left the host government divided as a number of ministers, among them Police minister Fikile Mbalula, wanted Grace to face justice in the interest of observing the rule of law, constitutionalism and also to protect the victim’s rights.
South African President Jacob Zuma and Foreign Affairs minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane wanted Grace to be granted immunity to avoid a diplomatic and political fallout with Zimbabwe.
Zuma and his backers also considered economic consequences given that Zimbabwe is South Africa’s major trading partner while many South African corporates and individuals, including politicians, have business interests in the country.
South African companies have invested heavily in Zimbabwe’s resources sector over the years. These include Impala Platinum, which owns the majority of Zimbabwe’s platinum claims held by Zimplats and Mimosa, Mzi Khumalo’s Metallon, which owns the largest gold-producing mining group in Zimbabwe acquired from Lonrho, as well as Angloplats, which jointly owns Unki Platinum mine with Anglo American Zimbabwe, a subsidiary of Anglo American Plc.
Bridgette Radebe, wife of South Africa’s cabinet minister Jeff Radebe, heads Mmakau Mining, which has a huge stake in Eureka Gold Mine.
Several other South African companies are operating in Zimbabwe including Aquarius Platinum, Tongaat Hulett, PPC and Standard Bank, which trades as Stanbic bank in Zimbabwe.
Mashabane granted the immunity in a notice published on Sunday that recognised “the immunities and privileges of the first lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Dr Grace Mugabe”.
The international relations department said the minister had “agonised over this matter and the decision was not an easy one to make”.
The department said all the relevant factors had been considered, including: the need to uphold the rule of law, ensure fair administration of justice, and uphold the rights of the complainant.
It also considered “the imperative to maintain good inter-governmental relations within the Southern African Development Community region, and in particular between South Africa and Zimbabwe;
“. . . the fact that the matter coincided with South Africa’s hosting of the 37th Sadc summit of heads of state and government” and “ legal considerations, including derivative immunity of spouses of heads of state.”
Mbalula had earlier said police had issued a “red alert” at South African borders for Grace to ensure she does not leave the country, while issues to do with her diplomatic immunity were being resolved.
Even after the Zimbabwean government dispatched a diplomatic note verbale invoking diplomatic immunity cover for Grace, Mbalula insisted that justice be served.
“Anyone that comes to South Africa must know we are a constitutional state and a law state and nothing will just be left,” said Mbalula on the sidelines of an indaba on gender-based violence last Thursday.
The Zimbabwean government invoked diplomatic immunity for Grace on Wednesday last week.
Mugabe’s wife had earlier indicated she would hand herself to police to give a warning statement, before her lawyers, Zimbabwe embassy officials and foreign affairs officials told South African police she would invoke diplomatic immunity cover.