HARARE – Grace Mugabe is now liable for prosecution in South Africa over the assault of model Gabriella Engels in August, legal experts have said.
They told the Daily News yesterday that the mere fact that Grace is no longer the country’s first lady creates the risk of having the immunity granted by the South African government in August revoked.
Grace and her husband, Robert Mugabe, were dethroned as Zimbabwe’s first couple last month.
Their cathartic fall came as South African civil rights lobby group AfriForum was in the midst of pursuing a court application challenging the decision by Pretoria to grant Grace diplomatic immunity.
If the application to review Pretoria’s position is successful, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will go ahead and prosecute Grace, and if the NPA refuses, AfriForum could proceed by way of a private prosecution on behalf of Engels.
Harare lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara said Grace’s immunity could be set aside in view of recent developments in Zimbabwe.
“Now chances of that happening are good for AfriForum. Immunity is lifted, warrant of arrest is issued, (the) South African government will ask Zimbabwean authorities to arrest Grace. She is put in custody. Prosecutors in Zimbabwe will ask court here to issue an order for extradition,” Bhatasara said.
Grace is denying that she assaulted Engels, 20, after she allegedly found her with one of her two sons, Chatunga Bellarmine, in a hotel room in Sandton.
South Africa’s International Relations and Co-operation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane granted the immunity in a notice published at the time.
The notice recognised “the immunities and privileges of the First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe, (Dr) Grace Mugabe”.
Writing on his blog, legal expert Alex Magaisa, said once a president leaves office, he no longer enjoys immunity, which by extension applies to the former first lady.
“This means legal action or criminal charges can be brought against a former president for whatever he or she did before or during the presidency. This means as a former president, … Mugabe is no longer protected by presidential immunity. He can be sued in his personal capacity,” Magaisa said.
Another lawyer, Obert Gutu, said that Grace’s immunity fell away the day that her husband left power and is now liable to prosecution for whatever offences she allegedly committed.
“Grace’s … immunity automatically fell away the moment that she ceased to be Zimbabwe’s first lady. She is now just an ordinary person. If she travels to South Africa today, she will be lynched. Make no mistake about that,” Gutu said.
Harare lawyer Jacob Mafume said Grace never had immunity in the first place because she was in South Africa on private business at the time of the commission of the alleged offence.
“The memo by the ministry was an abuse of the immunity process. She was not there as a diplomat or on official duties. The spouse she was supposed to accompany was home,” Mafume said.