Court hears why Grace Mugabe should not have been granted diplomatic immunity

Former first lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe. File picture
Former first lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe. File picture
Image: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

The Pretoria High Court is today hearing argument why former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe should not have been granted diplomatic immunity‚ allowing her to evade assault charges over an alleged beating of a South African model.

Gabriella Engels with rights group AfriForum first filed court papers in August 2017‚ challenging the decision by the South African government to grant diplomatic immunity to Mugabe.

Mugabe was accused by 20-year-old Engels of assaulting her and two friends at a luxury Johannesburg hotel. She flew out of the country under the cover of darkness shortly afterwards‚ after Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane controversially granted her diplomatic immunity.

The Commission for Gender Equality‚ represented by the Legal Resources Centre‚ said it had joined the case as a a friend of the court‚ to join other parties in arguing this week that Mugabe should not have been granted immunity.

"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 today's 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."

They will argue that Engels‚ as a woman‚ forms part of a particularly vulnerable group of society.

"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."

They pointed out that South Africa has assumed multiple direct international obligations to ensure justice for victims of gender violence.

"It is obliged by international law to ensure that victims like Ms Engels have access to effective remedies‚ and that alleged perpetrators like Dr Mugabe are investigated and prosecuted.

Granting Dr Mugabe immunity means that Ms Engels’ cannot seek justice for the violence allegedly done unto her.

She has no remedy or avenue for relief. . . This clearly violates South Africa’s obligation to impose penal sanctions on those convicted of violence done to women‚ and to offer women who are victims of violence access to justice."

The commission will further argue that the Minister’s powers under section 7(2) of the Act‚ which enables her to grant immunity‚ may only be exercised “if the conferment of immunities and privileges is in the interests of the Republic”. The commission asserts that the jurisdictional fact was not met when the Minister made the decision.

The CGE will be represented by Advocate Lerato Zikalala at the hearing.