South African authorities have allowed Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe return to Harare, without pressing the charge of assault against her. Grace Mugabe returned to Zimbabwe Sunday morning with President Robert Mugabe, who had attended a regional summit in South Africa. Zimbabwe media confirmed Grace’s arrival in Harare, a week after a 20-year-old model, Gabriella Engels, accused her of assault in an upmarket Johannesburg hotel room.
Although South African police claimed to have placed border posts on “red alert” to prevent her leaving the country, it is now confirmed that the wife of 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe had been granted diplomatic immunity.
Zimbabwean state media reported that the president and first lady arrived in Harare aboard an Air Zimbabwe plane in the early hours of Sunday. A source confirmed this to Reuters.
A bruised Gabriella Engels has accused Grace Mugabe of whipping her with an electric extension cable a week ago as she waited with two friends in a luxury hotel suite to meet one of Mugabe’s adult sons.
President Mugabe attended a South African Development Community summit in Pretoria on Saturday, but his 52-year-old wife was not there or part of his delegation.
Harare has made no official comment on the saga and requests for comment from Zimbabwean government officials have gone unanswered. The South African government has limited all official comment to the police ministry and international relations department spokespeople did not answer calls for comment.
South Africa’s main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), blamed the ministers of police, international relations and defense for the failure to detain Mugabe and said it wants the matter investigated.
“The DA will be demanding an immediate parliamentary inquiry into (the) government’s complicity in allowing Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe to flee the country in the dead of night to avoid criminal prosecution,” DA whip John Steenhuisen said in a statement.
Compounding the awkward diplomatic situation, commercial flights between Zimbabwe and South Africa were grounded on Friday and Saturday, affecting both national carriers, after unexpected checks for operating permits.
South African Airways resumed flights to Zimbabwe, it said in a statement on Sunday, and an Air Zimbabwe flight also departed from Harare to South Africa on Sunday morning.
Photo: Grace Mugabe
The case against Grace Mugabe has been dropped as a political flavor to Robert Mugabe. South Africa’s main opposition party had warned President Jacob Zuma and his administration not to let Grace Mugabe leave. And lawyers working with the model said they will go to court to challenge the South African government if it is confirmed that immunity was granted to Mugabe. Willie Spies, legal representative at AfriForum, an organization that primarily represents South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority, said Grace Mugabe may be back in in Zimbabwe, but the legal actions may make it difficult for her to return to South Africa in the future.