By Bridget Mananavire
Former first lady Grace Mugabe must be on tenterhooks after lawyers representing South African model Gabriella Engels presented their arguments in the Pretoria High Court yesterday seeking the lifting of a diplomatic immunity granted to the wife of ex-president, Robert Mugabe.
The first in a series of steps to have Grace face assault charges, the court was presented with a legal dilemma yesterday as it considered arguments presented by the applicants, the Democratic Alliance (DA)‚ backed by minority rights organisation, AfriForum.
Yesterday, the court was not sure whether or not the matter was moot because Grace was no longer the spouse of the fallen despot‚ meaning her immunity no longer existed.
AfriForum has also joined the application to set aside the granting of diplomatic immunity to Grace by South Africa’s minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, last year.
Grace allegedly assaulted Engels with an electric cord in August last year because she was unhappy with the escapades of her two sons in a luxury hotel in Sandton.
Judge Basheer Waglay asked whether the case was not moot as Grace no longer qualified for diplomatic immunity.
The DA ‚ which launched the application‚ disagreed.
It also argued that a decision‚ such as that taken by Nkoana-Mashabane‚ was binding in law until set aside by a court.
Anton Katz SC‚ for the DA‚ said granting diplomatic immunity for the entourage accompanying a head of state remained an uncertain matter.
Engels is alleging that she was struck several times with an extension cord and was left nursing deep wounds which needed stitching after being found with grace’s two sons, Robert Junior and Chatunga Bellarmine.
“I hope she does come back to account. I leave everything now in God’s hands and I know that He will get us through everything,” Engels said to reporters as she entered the court room yesterday.
He mother Debbie Engels who was also accompanying her said she was happy the case was now progressing.
“Very optimistic. Very, very optimistic. I’m happy that the ball has started rolling and we have a good legal team that is backing us, so we are optimistic that things will go well,” Debbie Engels said.
AfriForum chief executive officer Kallie Kriel said yesterday in the event that the diplomatic immunity is set aside‚ they will ask the authorities to go ahead with prosecution but if they don’t‚ they are ready to do so on behalf of Engels.
The matter continues today.
This comes as the Commission for Gender Equality represented by the Legal Resource Centre and the Woman’s Legal Centre Trust also joined the fight as “a friend of the court”, arguing that the Special Rapporteur on Immunities had concluded that spousal immunity was not settled law and is at best comity.
“Section 7(2) of the Constitution obliges the State to respect‚ protect‚ promote‚ and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights and when interpreted in light of international law‚ that obliges the State to take reasonable steps to protect women from violence. Granting the immunity to Dr Mugabe violates this obligation,” the LRC and the Commission said in a statement ahead of the court hearing.
“The Commission agrees with the applicants’ submissions that Dr Mugabe has no immunity as a spouse of a head of state under international law. However‚ to the extent that the minister granted Dr Mugabe immunity (which she otherwise would not have had) under s 7(2) of the Act‚ the decision implicates several of Ms Engels’ rights in the Bill of Rights.”
“Women are far too often the victims of domestic assault‚ such as the one allegedly perpetrated by Dr Mugabe. The minister’s decision must be seen in this context.
“The State should not be reinforcing the patriarchal status quo by unlawfully protecting someone who has been accused of violating and abusing a woman.” — Daily News/Times Live