DA goes to ConCourt to have Mugabe immunity set aside

Zimbabwe's first lady, Grace Mugabe, greets supporters at a rally in July in Zimbabwe. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)
Zimbabwe's first lady, Grace Mugabe, greets supporters at a rally in July in Zimbabwe. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

The Democratic Alliance has applied for direct access to the Constitutional Court to have the diplomatic immunity granted to Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe set aside.

The party filed papers this week arguing International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane's decision to let Mugabe off the hook for alleged assault was "wholly without legal merit", and should be declared invalid.

Mugabe was accused of beating South African model Gabriella Engels (20) with an extension cord in Sandton on August 13, during a visit with her two sons who are staying in Johannesburg.

She was granted immunity in a Government Gazette notice signed by Nkoane-Mashabane on August 19.

"The DA believes that the decision by the minister in granting immunity was hasty, embarrassing and, above all, illegal and unconstitutional," DA federal council chairperson James Selfe said.

"It is frankly unconscionable that after the scathing ruling by the Constitutional Court in the [Sudan President Omar] al-Bashir matter, that the ANC-led government would once again let a high-profile person escape justice in South Africa."

It was clear that Mugabe was granted immunity simply to shield her from being tried in a court of law for her assault on Engels, Selfe argued.

The application was filed on the same day that AfriForum, who is representing Engels, filed a review application in the North Gauteng High Court to set aside the decision to grant Mugabe diplomatic immunity.

According to AfriForum the minister misinterpreted Article 7 (2) of the Diplomatic Immunity and Privileges Act, arguing that if heads of state did not even qualify for immunity in this regard, there was no way that their spouses or family members could acquire it.

READ: Engels, AfriForum challenge Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity

Selfe said that condoning such behaviour, which the granting of immunity did, could not possibly be in the interest of South Africa. "There is therefore no legal basis for such a decision."

Mugabe was not a member of Zimbabwe's government and was in South Africa on personal business, he continued.

There was nothing in either South African or international law that rendered her deserving of diplomatic immunity. He said it was an example of an abuse of statutory powers at the expense of citizens.

Engels, President Jacob Zuma, Nkoana-Mashabane and National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams have all been listed as respondents.

The DA has also applied for costs to be sought from the respondents, and said the "precedent-setting nature" of the minister's decision required direct access to the highest court in the country, and their employment of two counsels.

Nkoana-Mashabane this week said her decision was "painful" and "agonising". That did not spare her from receiving widespread criticism from civil society.

Also read: Granting Grace Mugabe immunity was painful - Nkoana-Mashabane

The portfolio committee on international relations and cooperation resolved on Wednesday to invite the minister to explain her decision in Parliament at the soonest possible date.

Mugabe returned back to Zimbabwe on Sunday.

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