Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, has claimed diplomatic immunity after being accused of assaulting a 20-year-old model, South African police said Wednesday, in an incident that could test cross-border relations.
The 52-year-old wife of President Robert Mugabe is accused of attacking Gabriella Engels with an electrical extension cord on Sunday evening at a Johannesburg hotel where the first lady’s two sons were staying.
Engels has registered a police case alleging assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, saying she suffered deep cuts to her forehead and the back of her head.
“The suspect(‘s) lawyers and her government representatives made verbal representations… that the suspect wished to invoke diplomatic immunity cover,” the police ministry said in a statement.
The police stated that Grace Mugabe had been expected to report to a police station on Tuesday to give her version of the events and “to obtain a warning statement”, but that she failed to show up.
– Public or private trip? –
They added that she would attend a summit of the Southern African Development Community in Pretoria at the weekend, where her husband and other heads of state will be present.
Her official duties at the summit could bolster her claim to diplomatic immunity, after her trip to see her sons was widely described as private.
Foreign affairs spokesman Clayson Monyela had told AFP on Tuesday that her trip was “a private visit so government cannot get involved.”
“We know where the suspect is,” South Africa’s police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo told AFP earlier Wednesday.
“We are still continuing with the investigations. No warrant of arrest has been issued,” he added, after some reports suggested she had hurriedly returned to Harare late Tuesday.
The alleged attack threatens to spark a diplomatic tiff between the two neighbouring countries, which have strong political and economic ties.
Zimbabwean officials have made no comment on the case.