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Diplomatic immunity for Grace Mugabe was unconstitutional, court hears

Counsel for DIRCO tells court that minister accepts immunity no longer exists

'I will leave it all up to God' – Gabriella Engels as Grace Mugabe case resumes

Gabriella Engels, the young woman who was allegedly assaulted by former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe, said on Thursday she was confident that Mugabe would be extradited so that she could account for the alleged crime.

Engels was speaking inside courtroom 6F at the North Gauteng High Court where an application by lobby group AfriForum against the decision by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to grant diplomatic immunity to Mugabe is being heard.

In 2017, the 52-year-old wife of former president Robert Mugabe allegedly beat up the model at a Johannesburg hotel where her two sons were staying.

Engels told News24 that she was not feeling nervous about the court case.

"I am positive that all will go well today and tomorrow. I am happy that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is taking this matter very seriously and I know that she will come face the full might of the law. I really hope that she comes back to account but I leave it all in God's hands to get us through everything."

Engels said she had made progress in her recovery from the trauma of the event and believes there will be a positive outcome in the matter.

Other institutions joining proceedings

"The trauma and stuff was a bit bad but I am better now."

Engel's mother, Debbie, said she was also optimistic about the case.

"I am happy that the ball has started rolling again. I am happy that the NPA is taking this matter seriously. They have started to do their job."

Earlier this week, AfriForum said various other institutions had brought similar applications and would join the proceedings as friends of the court.

These are the Commission for Gender Equality, Freedom under Law and the Women's Legal Centre, who were all present in court on Thursday.

"Should AfriForum be successful in having this diplomatic immunity to Mugabe set aside, it will pave the way for the [National Prosecuting Authority] to take steps to ultimately prosecute Mugabe," it said.

Engels said she suffered deep cuts to her forehead and the back of her head.

'A great deal still has to happen'

The alleged attack threatened to spark a diplomatic tiff between the neighbouring countries that have strong political and economic ties.

The former first lady allegedly arrived at the Capital 20 West Hotel with bodyguards and accused Engels of partying with her sons Robert and Chatunga, who are both in their 20s.

Pictures on social media appeared to show Engels bleeding from her head after the alleged assault at the hotel in the upmarket business district of Sandton.

Engels said she had been attacked with an electrical extension cord.

Gerrie Nel, who launched a private prosecuting authority funded by AfriForum after leaving the NPA last year in January, previously announced that the organisation would represent and assist Engels during Mugabe's prosecution.

The DA's James Selfe, who was also in court, said: "There is a great deal that still has to happen. We need to get this diplomatic immunity lifted and insist that she be charged. There will have to be an application by Engels of an extradition order that then must come to court and then they can serve the Zimbabwean government." News24

Update:

Diplomatic immunity for Grace Mugabe was unconstitutional, court hears

Former international relations and cooperation minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane acted unconstitutionally when she granted former Zimbabwean first lady, Grace Mugabe, diplomatic immunity.

This is the argument of the counsel representing the Democratic Alliance in an application by lobby group AfriForum against the decision by Nkoane-Mashabane to grant diplomatic immunity to Mugabe.

The case relates to an incident that happened in 2017, when the 52-year-old wife of former president Robert Mugabe allegedly beat up model Gabriella Engels at a Johannesburg hotel where her two sons were staying.

The matter is sitting before acting Judge Bashier Vally in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

The DA's legal heavyweight, advocate Anton Katz SC said: "Point two is that what the minister of international relations did in relation with Grace Mugabe was inconsistent with the Constitution.

"The day that Robert Mugabe ceased to be the president of the country, it would seem that there is an argument to be made that Grace Mugabe's immunity ceased to exist."

Katz asked whether any immunity granted while Mugabe was still the president, was still valid.

"There was an event, of an alleged assault GBH, she got spousal immunity for that event."

Katz said the minister must explain the status of the immunity to the court.

"She has gotten it on the virtue of her office, not because of her work. That immunity ceases once you are no longer in office," he added.

'The minister accepts that the immunity no longer exists'

Counsel for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Hilton Epstein SC, then interrupted.

"The minister's case is that she was allowed to grant spousal immunity under international customary law… Whether Mr Mugabe is no longer the president, the minister's position is that the law must take its course."

Epstein said: "The minister accepts that the immunity no longer exists."

Katz interrupted, saying: "He has just told the court that his client acted unlawfully."

Vally said he did not think that Katz understood what Epstein was saying.

Katz suggested that South Africa's domestic laws only granted immunity to heads of state, and not to their spouses.

"The minister says there is a woman who commits assault on another woman, the perpetrator is the spouse of a head of state, her country writes to the minister, saying please grant her immunity.

"Then the minister says, because of international law, she already has immunity."

Katz submitted that the minister didn't seem to understand the law herself.

"...One would at least expect the minister to understand the power properly, before acting."

Katz said the court should consider the matter, in the interest of justice.

The case continues. News24