FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe could lose her R45 million (US$3,5 million) South African mansion amid indications rights group AfriForum will use a three-pronged approach to bring her to book over her assault case that has strained bilateral relations and divided the governing African National Congress, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.
Grace allegedly assaulted Gabriella Engels, a model who was in the company of her sons, Robert Jr and Bellarmine Chatunga, at a Sandton hotel in South Africa a fortnight ago, leaving the 20-year-old woman with a deep gash on the forehead, among other injuries.
Despite initial reports that she was going to hand herself over to the police and face prosecution, the Zimbabwean government invoked diplomatic immunity cover, enabling Grace to evade arrest.
AfriForum swiftly moved in and offered legal advice to Engels in an effort to bring Grace to book.
The civil rights organisation is exploring multiple strategies to secure justice for Engels and these include a civil suit, which could run concurrently with criminal prosecution as well as pursuing private prosecution, should the courts rule in favour of Grace in a case in which the organisation is challenging the awarding of diplomatic immunity to President Robert Mugabe’s wife.
In an interview on Wednesday, AfriForum chief executive officer Kallie Kriel said they have launched a review application of the decision to grant Grace diplomatic immunity and she has 30 days to file her opposing affidavits.
“If the review application is successful (and there are very good grounds to believe it will be) the doors will be open for the National Prosecuting Authority to prosecute Mrs Mugabe,” he said.
“If the NPA refuses to prosecute Mugabe, AfriForum’s private prosecution unit will begin with a private one.”
Another AfriForum lawyer, Willie Spies, said: “The organisation is considering suing her in a civil case as she (Grace Mugabe) has assets (including a R45 million house) in South Africa.”
On Wednesday, AfriForum launched its first application in the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division), Pretoria.
The court papers cite the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is cited as the political head of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation as the first respondent while Grace is cited as the second respondent.
According to the court papers seen by the Independent, the application is meant “to set aside a decision of the first respondent (hereinafter the Minister), recognising diplomatic immunity as far as the second respondent is concerned.”
“The aforesaid diplomatic immunity stands as a bar to criminal proceedings against the second respondent, arising from an assault committed by her on me with the intention to do grievous bodily harm on 13 August 2017,” reads Engels’ court application.
“The second respondent’s interest in these proceedings is the setting aside of her diplomatic immunity. If set aside, the second respondent faces criminal prosecution and civil action in South Africa for assault, as such she has a substantial interest in the subject matter of this litigation,” reads the application.
The court papers also state that the applicant (Engels) is “advised that the conferring of diplomatic immunity in terms of Sec 7(2) is dependent on the establishment of two preconditions, namely: That it is not expedient to enter into an agreement conferring immunities and privileges in terms of the Act as envisaged by Sec 7(1); and If the conferment of immunities and privileges is in the interest of the republic”.
“The applicants contend that, upon a proper analysis of the above decision, the first pre-condition for the exercise of the minister’s power to confer immunity is not present. The minister does not contend that it was not expedient to enter into an agreement as envisaged by Sec 7(1).
“Section 7(1) and (2) are empowering provisions for the conferring of immunities and privileges by the minister. In the absence of the precondition that compliance with Section 7(1) is not expedient, the minister does not have the statutory power to confer immunity on the second respondent.
“The applicants therefore contend that the decision lacks legality and is void ab initio, alternatively should be declared invalid.”
“I am advised that Sec 6(a) of the Foreign States Immunities Act 87 of 1981 provides that a Foreign State [which includes the Head of State — See Sec 1(2)(a)] shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the republic in proceedings relating to, inter alia, the injury of any person caused by an act or omission in the republic.”
If Grace is prosecuted and convicted, AfriForum will then launch a civil lawsuit which could lead to the attachment of her property in South Africa.
Reports in the South African media and separate checks by the Independent — which has been investigating Grace’s property story and her sons’ escapades in Johannesburg — show that she has been renting a huge property owned by Angolan immigrants for R200 000 (more than US$15 000) a month. Investigations and reports show the rented six-bedroomed property is Number 27A Coronation Road, Sandhurst, Sandton’s most affluent suburb. Sandton is the richest square mile in Africa.
A report in the The Star newspaper in Johannesburg also revealed that Grace has bought a property around the corner in Sandhurst for R45 million (US$3,5 million) and was also negotiating to buy another.
Official documents on the transfer of the property show that Grace has spent about R45 million on this 9 249 square metre property, which is nearly double the size of most in Sandhurst, a suburb redolent of money and extravagance.
Sandhurst is home to some of South Africa’s richest families as well as those from oil-rich parts of Africa.
In 2015, AfriForum successfully assisted a group of dispossessed Zimbabwean commercial farmers to enforce a 2008 ruling by the Southern African Development Community’s regional court, the Sadc Tribunal, in South Africa. The tribunal ruled that Mugabe’s land grabs were unlawful, racist and in contravention of applicable international law.
After a five-year legal battle, the property was auctioned because the Zimbabwean government failed to honour cost orders of South Africa’s High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court.
AfriForum began assisting dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers and human rights activists in the country in a legal battle in 2010 after Mugabe refused to comply with the order of the Sadc Tribunal that his illegal land grabs had to stop.
The order was registered in the High Court in Pretoria and AfriForum’s lawyers, for the first time in March 2010, attached the property in Cape Town following the enforcement of the order.
After unsuccessful attempts by the Zimbabwe government in the Pretoria High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court, to rescind the registration of the judgment in South Africa, the Sheriff of Wynberg North proceeded with the auction.
AfriForum regarded its litigation against the Zimbabwe government as a civil sanction campaign against the systemic abuse of human rights and the rule of law, and the destruction of land ownership in Zimbabwe.
With regards to the Grace Mugabe assault saga, Spies said AfriForum is willing to “fight this matter to the highest court”.