Three rights groups have joined forces with the Democratic Alliance (DA) to set aside the diplomatic immunity granted to former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe to shield her from trial for allegedly assaulting a South African model at a Sandton hotel four months ago.
The High Court in Pretoria granted leave to Freedom Under Law (FUL), the Commission for Gender Equality and the Women’s Legal Centre Trust (WLC) to intervene in the DA’s application as friends of the court and to make legal submissions.
The DA’s application will be heard next year with a separate application by model Gabriella Engels and AfriForum to set aside International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s August decision to recognise Grace Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity. Engels laid a charge of assault against Mugabe after she burst into a Sandton hotel room and allegedly used an electric cord with a plug at the end to hit Engels on the head on August 13.
Engels maintained diplomatic immunity legislation excluded granting it to heads of state who behaved in a criminal manner and caused death or injury to South African citizens, and that granting it to Mugabe was invalid. The DA said Nkoana-Mashabane’s decision constituted an irrational abuse of statutory power and should be set aside as unconstitutional.
Nkoana-Mashabane, in court papers, said Grace Mugabe, as the wife of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, had “spousal immunity” under international law. Not granting immunity to her would have had serious implications for international relations between SA and Zimbabwe and would have caused chaos and collapsed the Southern African Development Community summit which SA was hosting, she said.
She said she had considered Engels’ interest but had to recognise Mugabe’s spousal immunity. FUL said the decision that spouses of heads of state had the same immunity as their partners offended SA’s Bill of Rights, including the right to dignity, equality and to be free from all forms of violence. WLC said Mugabe’s immunity has grave implications for the jurisprudence on violence against women and the state’s obligations in respect thereof.