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The damage-control machine that gathered around Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe this week is desperate to poke holes in the story of the young model who accused Mugabe of assaulting her with an extension cord.

They have acquired closed-circuit television footage which, they claim, shows Gabriella Engels (20) involved in a brawl at Sandton’s popular Taboo nightclub in the early hours of last Sunday morning, the day Mugabe allegedly assaulted her.

But Mugabe’s aides may not need it.

City Press understands that on Friday, Zimbabwe’s first couple was given assurances by senior government officials that she would not be charged over the assault.

Engels denied yesterday that she was involved in any such brawl: “Yes, I was at Taboo, but I was not involved in any fight.

"They are trying to discredit me. The fight that happened at Taboo on Saturday has nothing to do with my case,” she said, adding that it was a friend of hers who was involved in the brawl.

“I was not partying with the boys and I would prefer not to be commenting on my connections with Taboo.”

But two sources, one close to the Mugabe family and the other a regular at Taboo, told City Press this week that in the early hours of Sunday morning, Engels and a group of friends came to blows with another group of women inside the club.

The witness claimed he saw Engels and her friends with the Mugabe brothers, Robert junior and Chatunga Bellarmine, inside the club’s large VIP section.

They were drinking “lots” of French Champagne – including bottles of Verve Clicquot, which the club sells for R2 400 each, and Moët which it sells for R2 100.

There were also bottles of vodka and whisky on the table.


The witness said the two groups of women came to blows inside the VIP section and that the Mugabe brothers separated them.

But later when they left, and as the brothers settled the bill, the fight started again in the parking lot.

“The quarrel was very serious,” claimed one source.

“When the fight happened outside, I saw one of the Mugabe brothers running outside, while the bouncers were separating the girls. I even called the bouncers and they managed to separate them.”

Engels, however, denied she knew the Mugabe brothers, insisting that she met them on the day of the assault.

A security guard at the Capital 20 West hotel in Morningside, Sandton, said the Mugabe brothers rented up to six rooms – which cost more than R1 000 a day each – for almost two months.

He told City Press that Engels arrived at the hotel in the early hours of Sunday with bruises on her face.

Engels denies this: “No, I left the club in the morning with no injuries at all.”

The guard claimed that Engels had been a regular visitor to the hotel since the Mugabes moved in.

He said she and her friends spent the day there on Saturday and left with the Mugabes later that evening in a convoy of four cars, accompanied by bodyguards.

He was adamant, however, that Engels only “sustained the cut on her forehead during the assault [by Mugabe] at about 21:00 on Sunday”.

Disagreement

The security guard said the Sunday evening drama started when a disagreement broke out between the young women and the Mugabe brothers, and the first lady was called to intervene.

“The scuffle continued inside one of the rooms,” he said.

“It just got out of hand. One of the bodyguards tried to stop them from making noise, but they didn’t even listen to him. He then phoned Mama Grace.”

Just before 9pm, he said, Mugabe entered the room to find the young women sitting in the lounge with Robert junior, surrounded by bottles of alcohol.

He said the first lady exclaimed: “What are you doing here? You are supposed to be at home with your parents!”

The women allegedly responded: “Who the hell are you?”

“She was very irritated. She then took the extension cord and started to beat everyone, including her eldest son, who was sitting with the three girls. But the other girls managed to flee, while Engels sustained the cut on her forehead,” he alleged.

“The bodyguards were running up and down. It was just a mess. I believe Mam’ Grace came to discipline her sons. It wasn’t her intention to assault anyone.”

Meanwhile, another source close to the first lady told City Press that she attacked Engels in self-defence.

“As we speak, Grace also sustains injuries to her feet,” he said.

But Engels was shocked by this, saying: “So she did hit my other two friends in self-defence, with her bodyguards that were there to protect her?”

Friends of the Mugabes say the first lady bought her new house in Africa’s richest suburb, Sandhurst, as a home for her sons, where they are supervised by a minder and bodyguards to keep them out of trouble. However, the boys regularly escape to hotels when they want to party.

Mugabe’s property, which spans 9 249m², cost R43m and was paid for in cash. The previous owners were the Ravazzotti family, who founded tile company Italtile.

Deeds office records show that the property was bought on February 27 and registered three months later to a nameless shelf company with only one director: Mugabe’s son from her first marriage, Russell Goreraza.

Goreraza (33) became a director of the company a few weeks after the property was transferred. He has registered at least three other companies in South Africa since January under a different passport number.

Other members of Mugabe’s inner circle, close to Zimbabwe’s governing Zanu PF, said this week that the first lady was “not a bad person+” but just had “temper issues”.

A businessman who contributes to Mugabe’s political campaign to succeed her husband as party leader, said she was “very protective of her sons” and had wanted them to become role models. She also wanted them to take over the reins of the country after their father stepped down.

“That has failed and that is why she is now aspiring to succeed her ageing husband. She is running the show in Zimbabwe and that is public knowledge,” he said.

Another insider sympathised with the first lady, saying the boys’ 93-year-old father was now too old to control them, and the job had fallen to her. He also said she had a short fuse.

“In Zim, people do not even bother to open a case because they are afraid they can receive further ill treatment by the police,” he said.

A senior source within the department of international relations and cooperation told City Press on Thursday there was “no way” South Africa would arrest Mugabe.

“The fear is not only limited to South Africa-Zimbabwe relations, but that of other African countries as well,” he said.

“Her husband is an elder statesman and still commands respect in other African countries. We do not want to be isolated and she will definitely be granted diplomatic immunity.”

The source added: “If she was not arrested in China after assaulting someone, who are we to arrest her?”

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, was unable to comment yesterday. Neither was Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department of international relations and cooperation.

Capital 20 West hotel management did not respond to requests for comment.

Taboo co-owner Ammar Janayem said he was unaware of the alleged brawl.




News24
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