Lawyers for the young model who claims she was assaulted by Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe in a Johannesburg hotel said yesterday her family had been approached with an offer of money to drop the allegation.
South African police issued a “red alert” to prevent Mugabe from leaving the country after Zimbabwe’s regime requested diplomatic immunity.
Lawyers for 20-year-old Gabriella Engels threatened to go to court if the South Africas government grants Mugabe immunity, saying it cannot be used to “escape prosecution from grave crimes”.
The lawyers said that Engels’s family had been approached with an offer of “financial compensation” by a third party, which she refused.
“They made an offer and said: ‘Let us talk, this will go away.’ There was no amount mentioned,” said Gerrie Nel, a former prosecutor who secured the murder conviction of Olympian Oscar Pistorius.
In a letter sent on Thursday to the South African government, Willie Spies, another lawyer involved in the case, said the offer was made on Tuesday and suggested that Engels should “come up with a figure so that parties could meet in order to settle the matter quietly”.
The scandal has become a diplomatic mess for South Africa’s government and Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old President, Robert Mugabe, who arrived in South Africa’s capital on Thursday apparently to deal with the crisis.
He came early for a regional summit of southern African nations this weekend.
South African Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said all borders had been notified to prevent Mugabe from leaving the country before her matter is resolved, the African News Agency reported.
“The red alert has been put,” Mr Mbalula said.
South African authorities are debating whether to grant the 52-year-old diplomatic immunity.
Engels has registered a case with police accusing Mugabe of attacking her with an extension cord in a luxury hotel in a Johannesburg suburb late on Sunday.
Engels said she was in a hotel room with mutual friends of Mugabe’s two sons, who live in Johannesburg, when the first lady burst in and assaulted her.
Photos of Engels posted on social media show a bloody gash to her forehead that she claimed was a result of the encounter.
Police said they have completed their investigation into the case and are waiting for direction from South Africa’s government on the status of Mugabe’s immunity request.
The question of immunity is “totally out of our jurisdiction,” said police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo. Until there is a decision on the immunity application, Brigadier Naidoo said, “the whole investigation is in abeyance”.
Engels has been offered legal help by Mr Nel, who now works as a private prosecutor for AfriForum, an organisation that primarily represents the rights of South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority.
If Engels’s case goes to court and Mugabe is convicted, a jail sentence could be possible, Mr Nel said.
Engels attended a news conference yesterday in Centurion, a bandage still on her forehead, but did not comment.
Her mother, Debbie Engels, thanked AfriForum for offering to help.
“Now I know this woman is not going to get off scot-free for what she did to my child,” she said.
It is unclear whether Mugabe entered South Africa with a personal or diplomatic passport. Zimbabwe’s state-owned Herald reported last weekend that she was in South Africa seeking medical care.
The debate over whether Mugabe should be granted immunity quickly took on a political dimension in South Africa, with the opposition Democratic Alliance calling on President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet to ensure the first lady is brought to justice.
“Ms Mugabe should have applied for diplomatic immunity before she came to our country, not after she finds herself facing criminal charges,” said Zakhele Mbhele, a Democratic Alliance MP.
He said the Police Minister “needs to do his job and ensure she is arrested and has her day in court to answer the serious charges against her”. Associated Press