Mugabe immunity: Ministers pass the buck to absent Dirco minister

2017-09-07 22:17
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (Tebogo Letsie, City Press)

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (Tebogo Letsie, City Press)

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Cape Town - At least three ministers did their best to distance themselves in Parliament from the decision to grant Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity.

Peace and security cluster ministers faced questions in the National Assembly on Thursday, but none seemed too keen to be associated with the decision to grant Mugabe immunity following allegations of assault.

Rather, they referred the bulk of the questions to International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who was noticeably absent on the day, despite a resolution at this week's chief whips' forum that she would avail herself.

Also read: Minister rejected invitation to explain Grace Mugabe decision

First up was Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize.

"I think we have to separate the two departments. There is Dirco, and home affairs. I can only talk to our commitments," said Mkhize.

EFF MP Sam Matiase asked her if she was asked to intervene at the country's ports of entry, but she replied it was difficult to intervene when you don't have the facts.

"Whatever I learnt was from the media. I did not have any information on the circumstances. As a result, you don't ask what interventions were put in place."

"Why haven't you got the facts?" shouted opposition MPs.

'My role was irrelevant'

Next up was Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha.

Masutha was asked if the chief state law adviser, who reports to Masutha, advised Nkoana-Mashabane on the decision.

"The department of Dirco (sic) also has its own state law adviser who gives advice on international relations. To the best of my knowledge, the chief state law adviser in my department was not approached."

EFF MP Thembinkosi Rawula asked if there had been any communication between his department and Police Minister Fikile Mbalula over the possibility of arresting Mugabe before she left.

Also read: 'Whip your children,' Zim youth leader urges Grace Mugabe

Masutha dismissed the question as irrelevant.

"What was relevant, was at the point when such immunity was granted, that became the basis on which the matter was dealt with.

"Neither the minister of justice nor the police's roles continued to be relevant."

In any case, there was no criminal docket placed before the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), for which he is responsible, he said.

"In the Diplomatic Immunities [and Privileges] Act, there is no provision for a role for the minister of justice, and at the time where immunity was granted, the matter was not before the NPA."

Grace Mugabe 'did not run away'

Last up was an animated Mbalula who was asked by DA MP Zakhele Mbhele whether there had been a breakdown in communication between himself and officials within his department.

"The police informed me correctly, and necessary steps were taken, and it (Mugabe's arrest) did not happen because from what they (Mugabe's team) agreed to do they changed and then they applied for indemnity. That is history now," Mbalula said.

"From the point of the police, there was no miscommunication."

DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said Mbalula had emphatically declared a "red alert" before Mugabe had left the country, and wanted to know who had lied to him.

"Grace Mugabe never left South Africa or ran away. That was a figment of your imagination. She didn't, and I clarified that point.

"The fact that the first lady changed and asked for indemnity was dealt with by Dirco, not the police. We do not deal with indemnity, we deal with arrests..."

At this point DA MPs erupted, asking why he hadn't arrested her then.

"There was no lie in what I said, and that is the truth," he finished.

Mbalula ultimately conceded that Mugabe's decision was a special case, but the South African police would have been ready to execute their mandate had the situation been different.

Minister's absence a 'joke, unacceptable'

DA and IFP chief whips John Steenhuisen and Narend Singh both raised points of order during the sitting around Nkoana-Mashabane's absence.

"It makes a joke of this House's responsibility to hold the executive accountable," Steenhuisen said.

We were assured yesterday in the chief whips' forum that the leader of government business wrote to the minister," said Singh.

"What made the matter worse, is not a single representative of hers is here. It's totally unacceptable."

Her two deputies were not there either, with State Security Minister David Mahlobo filling in for Nkoana-Mashabane for other unrelated questions.

Steenhuisen said Speaker Baleka Mbete, chief whips and the leader of government business Cyril Ramaphosa must hold a meeting where Nkoana-Mashabane is called in.

Nkoana-Mashabane has rejected the invitation to appear before Parliament's portfolio committee on international relations to account for the decision on Mugabe.

In a letter revealed to the committee on Wednesday, she said the decision is currently before the courts, and therefore sub judice.

The DA and civil body AfriForum have both challenged her decision in the North Gauteng High Court.

Read more on:    maite nkoana mashabane  |  grace mugabe  |  parliament

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