Engels, AfriForum challenge Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity

Gabriella Engels. Picture: Deaan Vivier
Gabriella Engels. Picture: Deaan Vivier

AfriForum on Wednesday filed a review application in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to set aside the decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe.

Mugabe, who is facing charges of alleged assault, was granted diplomatic immunity by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane ahead of her departure to Zimbabwe on Sunday.

South African model Gabriella Engels, 20, claimed that the 52-year-old Mugabe attacked her with an extension cord at a Sandton hotel on August 13. Engels subsequently opened a case against her.

In a government Gazette notice she signed, Nkoane-Mashabane said that she recognised the immunities and privileges of Mugabe and that she had done this “in accordance with the powers vested in me by section 7(2) of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act 2001 (Act No 37 of 2001) and acting in the Interest of [the] Republic of South Africa”.

AfriForum, a civil rights group, says the minister misinterpreted Article 7(2) of the Diplomatic Immunity and Privileges Act, and therefore filed the injunction asking the court to invalidate the minister’s decision.

“The minister misinterpreted the law. She applied the wrong principles,” AfriForum lawyer Willie Spies told AFP.

Spies argued 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.

On Wednesday, during a National Assembly question and answer session, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was heckled and questioned on the matter as MPs demanded answers on the Mugabe debacle.

He said the decision to grant her immunity was taken in line with “internationally recognised immunity regulations”, and admitted that it was “the first time we have utilised this type of convention.”

A hearing into the case was set to start on September 19, Spies said.

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