LEBOGANG SEALE AND SHAUN SMILLIE | 19 AUGUST 2017 | Saturday Star (South Africa)
Johannesburg – Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe claims she hit 20-year-old Gabriella Engels with an extension cord in an act of self-defence.
Her two sons were not spared a beating either.
Mugabe has told South African officials that she was in fact the victim in the attack that happened last Sunday in a flat in Sandton. This allegedly took place in the presence of numerous body guards.
This is according to highly-placed sources privy to the case. “She is adamant on the issue of protecting herself because she feels she was attacked. She says she was attacked by the victim and that she also has her own injuries which she is not going to publish in the media,” said one source.
The assault, which happened last Sunday has Zimbabwean and South African officials scurrying behind the scenes to try to defuse what has become an embarrassing international incident that has brought the diplomatic relations between the two neighbours under intense scrutiny.
Engels claims that Mugabe assaulted her after she found her with her sons, Robert jr and Chatunga Bellarmine. But it appears that the pair, known for their high-rolling lifestyles, also faced their mother’s wrath that night.
“People are not talking about the fact she did the same to her kids. She beats her kids too,” the source said. Engels received cuts and bruises and had to crawl out of the room to escape, she claimed. She said that Mugabe’s bodyguards stood by and watched.
Since the attack, civil rights organisation AfriForum, has decided to represent Engels and the “Bulldog” advocate Gerrie Nel has taken the case and is hoping to get the Zimbabwean first lady in the dock, despite government’s fears of diplomatic fallout.
When asked why Mugabe didn’t open a police case against Engels, the official said that Mugabe didn’t see it that way. The official explained how the incident had placed the SAPS in a predicament.
“Yes, clearly it was a difficult situation, a predicament because it was a high-profile matter and all the things came colliding. It was a mad house, and we had to ensure we don’t break the international law on how to treat important delegates. In cases like this, you want to collect all the information from all sides.”
The first lady is apparently still holed-up in South Africa and is waiting for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) to issue her diplomatic immunity. Then she can leave.
If this happens, this will be the second time that Mugabe has used this legal loophole to escape prosecution. In 2009, she was given diplomatic immunity by the Chinese after she assaulted a journalist in Hong Kong.
Dirco spokesperson Nelson Kgwete said that a decision had yet to be made about giving Mugabe diplomatic immunity. AfriForum on Friday said that they were waiting to see if Mugabe would be given diplomatic immunity.
If she was, Willie Spies, the organisation’s legal representative said the organisation would launch a review application in the high court in Pretoria to have the decision set aside. He said that Engels had opened a case of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm against Mugabe, which was serious enough to warrant her not being given immunity.
“You must remember that Mrs Mugabe visits South Africa very often,” said Spies. “She does have interests and assets in South Africa so it makes it possible for us to get hold of her or pursue her at a later stage.”
Mugabe has in recent months allegedly been on a multimillion dollar spending splurge on Joburg property. “If the review application fails,we have committed ourselves to challenge this up to the Constitutional Court,” Spies said.
Another source said the matter had to be dealt with delicately.
“Everything was colliding into everything else and he (minister Fikile Mbalula) has had to think deeply. You can imagine if the police just went in there, guns blazing, she is guarded by a dozen guards.” “There is no law that is higher than the other. We also had to consider the international complexities because you have had our diplomats thrown out of countries. That is the complexity.”
Meanwhile, the woman at the centre of the incident is recovering. Engels’ mother Debbie on Friday said: “She is not getting trauma counselling as yet, but she is on the mend.”
The assault charges against Mugabe are set to be discussed in Parliament. In the meeting of the programming committee on Friday, MPs agreed that the case, along with that of Deputy Higher Education Minister Mduduzi Manana, deserves special attention when Parliament debates gender-based violence this month.
The debate was supposed to have been held last Tuesday but had to be held over because of the motion of no-confidence against President Jacob Zuma.
MPs from across the political spectrum agreed that Manana and Mugabe should be the focal point of their deliberations.