South African rights campaigners say it would be a disgrace to grant diplomatic immunity to Grace Mugabe. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
There is no way Zimbabwean first lady will be arrested over model’s allegation of assault in hotel, says source in Pretoria.
South Africa plans to grant diplomatic immunity to Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, after she was accused of assaulting a model at a hotel in Johannesburg, government sources have said.
Mugabe is accused of attacking Gabriella Engels, 20, with an electrical extension cord after Engels went to see the Mugabes’ sons Robert and Chatunga at the Capital 20 West hotel in Johannesburg’s upmarket Sandton district.
South African police have put border posts on “red alert” to prevent Mugabe fleeing and said she will not receive special treatment, but a source in Pretoria, the country’s administrative capital, told Reuters there was “no way” the 52-year-old would be arrested.
It is expected that a grant of diplomatic immunity would be challenged in court. It is not clear whether Mugabe entered South Africa on a personal or diplomatic passport.
Afriforum, a South African rights group, which is advising Engels, said it would be a “disgrace” to grant diplomatic immunity, which would allow Mugabe to return to Harare.
“The government has two responsibilities: one, to protect its own citizens and two, to act according to the law. And the granting of diplomatic immunity would transgress the law,” the chief executive of Afriforum, Kallie Kriel, said.
Pictures posted on social media appeared to show a cut to Engels’ forehead and she claimed to have more injuries on the back of her head. Engels has said she “did not lift a finger on the first lady”.
“We were chilling in a hotel room, and [the sons] were in the room next door. She came in and started hitting us. She flipped and just kept beating me with the plug, over and over,” Engels told local media.
Gabriella Engels at a media conference in Pretoria on Thursday. Photograph: Themba Hadebe/AP
The South African model said she had no clue who her attacker was until the alleged assault was over. She had “no idea what was going on … I was surprised. I had to crawl out of the room before I could run away,” she said.
Accusing the first lady’s bodyguards of standing by and watching during the alleged assault, Engels said: “The front of my forehead is busted open. I’m a model and I make my money based on my looks.”
Mugabe regularly speaks at political rallies and is seen as a possible contender to take over from her increasingly frail husband, Robert, who has ruled Zimbabwesince independence from British colonial rule in 1980.