Grace Mugabe seeks diplomatic immunity to avoid assault charge

Zimbabwe’s first lady accused of assaulting model in South Africa at weekend

Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe, who is accused of assaulting a model in South Africa at the weekend, is trying to secure diplomatic immunity to avoid facing an assault charge that has arisen from the incident.

Acting police commissioner Lesetja Mothiba told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that Ms Mugabe's lawyers had contacted the South African police and informed them she would be seeking the special protection reserved for select foreigners. But he added that "she must go to court" before such an application would be considered by the authorities.

According to local experts, diplomatic protection applies only to designated people in the course of conducting official state business. Ms Mugabe was, however, believed to be travelling in South Africa in a private capacity.

The whereabouts of Ms Mugabe, who has already failed to attend a scheduled court hearing into the matter, remained unclear amid reports that her husband, Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe, was on his way to be with his wife.


Mr Mugabe (93) is scheduled to attend the 37th Southern African Development Community summit in Pretoria this weekend, but Eyewitness News has reported he changed his travel plans to arrive early to deal with his wife's legal position.

Ms Mugabe (52) is accused of assaulting Gabriella Engels (20) with an electrical extension cord on Sunday evening, She had found the woman in the company of her two sons, Robert and Chatunga, who were staying at an upmarket Johannesburg hotel.


The young model posted pictures on social media of a deep gash on her forehead, which she claimed was inflicted by Ms Mugabe, who kept “beating me with the plug, over and over”, she said.

“I had no idea what was going on. I was surprised. I needed to crawl out of the room before I could run away,” she added.

On Monday, Ms Engels opened a case of assault at a local police station against Zimbabwe’s first lady, who was due to appear at Wynburg Magistrate Court the following afternoon. However, the former typist, who married Mr Mugabe in the 1990s, did not show up.

By Wednesday morning there were conflicting reports as to where Ms Mugabe was located, which fuelled speculation that South African authorities had allowed her to skip the country to avoid a diplomatic row with their neighbour.

Some media organisations quoted Zimbabwean officials as saying Ms Mugabe had returned to her home country, while others cited senior police confirming she was still in South Africa at a secret location known to them.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, called Ms Mugabe a “total disgrace and a complete national embarrassment”.

“She has to be brought to order and indeed she has to appreciate that she is not a law unto herself,” it said in a statement.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa