South Africa debates immunity for Zimbabwe first lady

South Africa debates immunity for Zimbabwe first lady
Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe

South African officials are debating whether to grant diplomatic immunity to Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe, who is accused of assaulting a 20-year-old model in Johannesburg this week.

Mrs Mugabe remains in South Africa after a day of intense speculation over her whereabouts, South African police said.

The police said the Zimbabwean government asked for diplomatic immunity for a suspect involved in the alleged assault. The police have declined to name Mrs Mugabe in the case as she has not yet appeared in court.

Mrs Mugabe's immunity request is currently under consideration, Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation told The Associated Press.

Acting national police commissioner Lesetja Mothiba said earlier on Wednesday that police and national prosecutors wanted to charge Mrs Mugabe, according to the African News Agency. "Our position was that she must go to court," he said.

Gabriella Engels registered a case with police on Monday accusing Mrs Mugabe, 52, of attacking her with an extension cord in a luxury hotel in a Johannesburg suburb late on Sunday evening.

Ms Engels said she had been in a hotel room with mutual friends of Mrs Mugabe's two sons, who live in Johannesburg, when the first lady burst into the room and allegedly assaulted her. Photos of Ms Engels posted on social media show a bloody gash to her forehead that she claimed was a result of the encounter.

Confusion over whether Mrs Mugabe was still in the country flared up on Tuesday after South Africa's police minister said she was due to appear in a South African court and she did not show up, fuelling speculation she may have returned to Zimbabwe.

Police clarified on Wednesday that while the suspect had failed to present herself to police to obtain a "warning statement" about the case, she remained in the country and had sent her lawyers and Zimbabwe government officials to tell police she intended to request diplomatic immunity.

"Discussions with the suspect's lawyers and the Zimbabwean High Commission representatives are taking place to make sure that the suspect is processed through the legal system," the police statement said.

Ms Engels told the AP she would be willing to face Mugabe in court.

"I want to go to court because I really feel like she should go to jail for what she did to me," she said. "I don't want her to get away with this. Because what happened to me was not OK."

Mrs Mugabe has been accused of assaults during other overseas trips, including a 2009 visit to Hong Kong in which a photographer accused her of beating him up.

Zimbabwe's state broadcaster reported late on Wednesday that President Robert Mugabe had left for South Africa to attend a regional summit.

AP

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