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Grace Mugabe Is Back in Zimbabwe, Trailed by Assault Accusations

The model, Gabriella Engels, 20, said that she had been with Mrs. Mugabe’s sons, Robert Mugabe Jr., 25, and Chatunga Mugabe, 21, and others in a hotel on Aug. 13 when their mother burst in and began beating her with the extension cord as 10 bodyguards watched.

“There was blood everywhere,” Ms. Engels told a South African broadcaster. “She flipped and just kept beating me with the plug. Over and over. I had no idea what was going on. I was surprised. I needed to crawl out of the room before I could run away.”

Ms. Engels later filed charges and posted photos on social media showing a deep gash in her forehead, a bloodied scalp and bruises on her body.

Outraged rights activists called on South African officials to turn the full force of the law on Mrs. Mugabe. Hordes of protesters gathered outside the venue of the summit meeting in Pretoria on Saturday, calling for her arrest. Both countries grounded flights from the other nation from landing or taking off.

In Zimbabwe, critics piled on.

“Grace Mugabe should not even be given an option of a fine if she appears in court; she should go to jail,” said Linda Masarira, a Zimbabwean rights activist and leader of the Zimbabwe Activists Alliance.

People in both countries speculated that she had slipped out of South Africa. Mrs. Mugabe did not attend the first ladies’ forum at the summit meeting. The police said Mrs. Mugabe had failed to show up for a hearing. The South African minister of police, Fikile Mbalula, said a “red alert” had been issued to ensure she did not return home to Zimbabwe undetected.


Gabriella Engels at a news conference in Pretoria, South Africa, on Aug, 17. Ms Engels said Mrs. Mugabe had beaten her with an extension cord. Credit Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters..

Neither the Zimbabwean government nor Mrs. Mugabe have given an explanation of the events. Repeated phone calls and text messages to a spokesman for the family were not answered.

Last week, Mrs. Mugabe’s legal representatives, including officials from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, invoked diplomatic immunity to prevent any prosecution. The negotiations took place behind closed doors.

The South African government said on Saturday that it was deciding whether to grant diplomatic immunity at the request of the Zimbabwean government, though there was no immediate comment on Sunday.

Rashweat Mukundu, former director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe, said in an interview on Sunday, “It is a Catch-22 situation for South Africa as the Zimbabwe first lady is by extension of her relationship a diplomat of sorts, while at the same time South Africa must be seen to be protecting its citizens from harm and being tough on criminality.”

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Mr. Mugabe “were not going to allow this matter to deteriorate to the extent of damaging relations beyond what we see now,” Mr. Mukundu added.

Ms. Engels said that Mrs. Mugabe had accused her of living with the Mugabe brothers, who reside in an upscale Johannesburg suburb, Sandton. They have been in the news recently about their lavish lifestyle. The opposition People’s Democratic Party in Zimbabwe has accused them of “spending taxpayers’ money like confetti,” according The Economist.

A group representing Ms. Engels, AfriForum, vowed to push for a private prosecution of Mrs. Mugabe if the South African police did not bring a case against her.

“We will take a long term approach on this,” said Willie Spies, a spokesman for AfriForum, which primarily represents South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority, according to The Associated Press.

Mr. Mugabe said his wife had been in South Africa to get medical treatment for a leg injury.

Mrs. Mugabe is a fierce guardian of her husband and his legacy. She has said her husband could rule from the grave. “If God decides to take him, then we would rather field him as a corpse” in the 2018 election, she said this year.

As the battle to succeed him intensifies, Mrs. Mugabe has emerged as a top contender along with Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa.

In 2009, she was granted diplomatic immunity by Hong Kong’s Department of Justice after being accused of attacking a British photographer who took pictures of her shopping. (Mrs. Mugabe’s lavish shopping expeditions have been the subject of criticism at home.)

The diplomatic impasse, meanwhile, appeared to have affected some flights in and out of both countries. South African officials on Friday suddenly grounded an Air Zimbabwe flight at Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport, claiming the plane did not have a foreign operator’s permit. Zimbabwe promptly blocked flights from South Africa’s government-owned airline.

President Mugabe had been expected to preside at a state funeral for a former minister, Shuvai Mahofa, in Harare on Sunday. But neither he nor his wife attend the burial. Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko officiated instead.

Source: NYT > World

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